Preventative Measures against Identity Theft

What strikes young or old, male or female, rich or poor? Here's a hint: it topped the Federal Trade Commission's list of consumer complaints in 2002, and has cost consumers $343 million during that year. If you guessed   Identity Theft , you are correct. There were approximately 500,000 identity theft victims who filed a police report in 2001.  

What is Identity Theft? It's the act of using someone's personal information (such as a name, account number, driver's license, health insurance card, or Social Security number, for example) without that person's knowledge, and using the assumed identity to commit fraud or theft. Oftentimes, the personal information is used to get loans or open credit-card accounts. Some victims who have had their identity stolen have lost job opportunities, been refused loans and housing, been left with destroyed credit and reputations.  

You can't prevent it from happening to you, but you can take precautions to make sure you're not an easy target!  

  • Keep track of your personal information and only share the information with a company you know and trust. Read and understand the fine print in every document.
  • Protect your Social Security number and mother´s maiden name. Avoid giving personal information out over the phone. Never post your Social Security number on your checks, outside of envelopes, etc.
  • Minimize the number of identification information and financial cards you carry in your wallet and sign all new credit cards upon receipt. Write “Check ID” after your signature as a note to shopkeepers to ask for identification.
  • Keep your new and canceled checks in a safe place, and report lost or stolen checks to the issuing financial institution immediately.
  • Never leave receipts at bank machines, bank counters, trash receptacles, or unattended gas pumps. Save them and match them against your monthly bills, and then shred them.
  • Buy only from secure Internet sites. Look for the closed lock icon to appear at the bottom of your browser to check the site´s security status. Also, check the site´s privacy policies to make sure they are not distributing or selling your name and information without your permission.
  • Shred any documents that have any personal information or credit account numbers on them before discarding, including tax returns and unwanted credit card offers.
  • Report all lost or stolen credit cards. If you applied for a new credit card and it has not arrived in a timely manner, call the bank or credit card company that is issuing the card.
  • Follow up with creditors if your bills do not arrive on time. A missing credit card bill could mean an identity thief has changed your billing address to cover his/her tracks.
  • Notify your credit card companies and financial institutions in advance of any change of address or telephone number. Make sure to contact the sender if your statements are not received in the mail by their usual time.
  • Monitor your credit. Check your credit report regularly from the three credit-reporting agencies for any unfamiliar changes, such as new accounts, inquiries, or public records.
  • Order your Social Security Earnings and Benefits Statement annually to check for fraud by calling 1.800.772.1213.

By keeping an eye on your statements and regularly monitoring your credit, you will be taking measures to protect your credit against the extensive damage of Identity Theft.

Recovering from identity theft

Fighting identity theft can be a time consuming and frustrating process. Once you become aware that your personal information is being used fraudulently, your best defense is taking fast action to minimize future damage. You should first contact your creditors to close any fraudulent accounts. Next, notify the three national crediting reporting agencies by calling Experian ® at 1-888-397-3742 (this number has an electronic menu; You cannot talk to anyone at Experian until you have a copy of your credit report, which includes a report number required to reach a live representative), Equifax at 1-800-270-3435 and TransUnion at 1-800-680-7289.

Experian's fraud alert will remain for 90 days. All three credit reporting agencies (CRAs) will send you a complimentary copy of your personal credit report and, as a further precaution, remove your name from prescreened offer mailing lists. They will provide you with tips for recovering from fraud. They will also offer you the opportunity to request that a fraud alert message be added to your personal credit report for an extended period of time. This message says, "Fraudulent applications may be submitted in my name using correct personal information. Do not extend credit without first contacting me personally and verifying all applicant information at (your day phone number) or (your evening phone number). Date reported-(mm/yy)." This message will remain on your Experian report for seven years.

If you select this extended-time message, all three CRAs will provide you with a complimentary credit report each month for three months so you may monitor your report for any further fraudulent activity.

Identity theft statistics

A person can spend a lifetime building a reputation for financial reliability, only to be victimized by identity theft, a crime that can quickly undermine one's good credit. In dealing with the fallout of identity theft, victims often go through a stressful, frustrating and time-consuming ordeal. Once a criminal obtains your Social Security number with a few additional pieces of personal data, such as date of birth, driver's license and mother's maiden name, he or she can apply for credit, loans or utility services in your name. According to the Federal Trade Commission's Identity Theft Data Clearinghouse, the most typical types of identity theft data are as follows:

  • Credit card fraud - More than half of all victims said that either a credit card account was opened in their name or an existing account was being used without authorization.

  • Bank fraud - The thief either opens an unauthorized checking or savings account in another person's name or writes checks on someone else's account, sometimes after stealing checks.

  • Communications services - A quarter of all victims said that a thief used their name to open service with a utility such as the phone company.

  • Fraudulent loans - The thief uses the victim's identity to obtain a loan for a car or other item.

How to protect yourself

Review the following tips from CreditExpert to learn how you can help protect your personal information and avoid being victimized by an identity thief.

Step # 1 - Shred pre-approved credit card offers

If you decide not to accept a pre-approved credit offer, shred it before you throw it away. That goes for any other document imprinted with your Social Security number, date of birth, driver's license, phone number and any type of financial account or utility account number. Your trash can be a gold mine for thieves, so make sure this critical information is shredded before it leaves your house. If you do not want to receive pre-approved credit offers, call 1-888-5-OPT-OUT (1-888-567-8688) to be removed from the lists of major credit bureau lists.

Step # 2 - Don't display critical information

Do not print your Social Security number, phone number, date of birth or credit card account number on your checks, and don't give this information to a merchant who wants to write it on your check at the time of purchase.

Step # 3 - Secure your mail

Stealing mail is another way that identity thieves obtain your personal information. Consider buying a lockable mailbox if your current mailbox is unsecured. If your mail suddenly stops coming, call the post office immediately. Identity thieves have been known to divert a victim's mail by filing a change of address form.

Step # 4 - Monitor your credit

Monitor your credit report on a regular basis. If you find a change of address you did not initiate or accounts you did not apply for, check out Experian's Fraud Center or call 1-888-397-3742 and request a copy of your personal credit report. The credit report will include contact information for requesting an investigation of incorrect information. It's also important to watch your monthly billing statements for errors.

What to do if you're a victim

Once you become aware that your personal information is being used fraudulently, your best defense is taking fast action to minimize future damage. You should first contact your creditors to close any fraudulent accounts. Next, notify the national crediting reporting agencies by calling Experian ® at 1-888-397-3742, Equifax ® at 1-800-270-3435 and TransUnion ® at 1-800-680-7289.

Experian's fraud alert will remain for 90 days. Credit Reporting Agencies (CRA) will send you a complimentary copy of your personal credit report as legislated for victims of fraud, and as a further precaution, remove your name from prescreened offer mailing lists. They will provide you with tips for recovering from fraud. They will also offer you the opportunity to request that a fraud alert message be added to your personal credit report for an extended period of time. This message says, "Fraudulent applications may be submitted in my name using correct personal information. Do not extend credit without first contacting me personally and verifying all applicant information at (your day phone number) or (your evening phone number). Date reported-(mm/yy)." This message will remain on your Experian report for seven years.

Understanding Identity Theft

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