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Protecting Yourself from I.D. Theft

A Wheeler Road woman reported falling victim last Friday.

On Friday the 13th, a Wheeler Road woman told police that someone had opened six accounts in her name until the identity thief drew suspicion by attempting to open two more lines of credit in her name. However, no charges apparently had been made.

Capt. Michael Flick said Discover, Capital One, MasterCard and American Express card accounts were opened, as well as accounts for PayPal and Amazon, before credit card companies denied two other cards due to the high number of new accounts.

The identity theft victim was notified by mail. She contacted all of the major credit bureaus and informed them of the fraud and will have her credit monitored over the next seven years.

"That is something we always recommend," Flick said of the monitoring.

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When someone becomes a victim of identity theft, police said the Federal Trade Commission's I.D. Theft Hotline should be called at 1-877-IDTHEFT. The website is consumer.gov/idtheft.

Contact information for the three major credit bureaus are Equifax to order a credit report at 800-685-1111 and to report fraud, 800-525-6285; Experian 888-397-3742 (order credit report), website experian.com; and Trans Union 800-888-4213 (credit report) and 800-680-7289 to report fraud, website tuc.com.

Another place to contact is the Free Credit Report Bureau, 1-877-322-8228, website annualcreditreport.com, or visit the website for the Identity Theft Resource Center is idtheftcenter.org.

How I.D. Theft Happens

The Monroe Police Department gives identity theft victims a packet entitled ID Theft Prevention & Survival Plan. The rest of this article includes information from that source.

The following are ways that such thefts occur.

Among the "breeder documents" needed to open an account in another person's name are the victim's name and address, date of birth, Social Security number and driver's license number.

A thief can steal the information by taking purses, wallets, laptop computers and mail and billing statements someone's mailbox. Dumpster diving is another way to obtain records.

Skimming is a practice in which thieves record information by swiping someone's credit card through a special storage device while processing it.

Phishing is a practice of pretending to be a legitimate financial institution or business and sending spam (fake email) or pop up messages on the Internet as a way to get people to reveal their personal information.

Phone solitications are when thieves pose as employees or officials for a bank, credit card bureaus or government agencies. They will tell the victim that the call is urgent and request personal information for verification purposes.

Another way is to change someone's address, diverting mail or billing statements to another location by completing a "change of address" form.

Reducing Your Risk

Police offer seven steps to reduce your risk of becoming an identity theft victim.

  1. Spot It: Bills that do not arrive as expected; unexpected credit cards and account statements; calls or letters about purchases you did not make, and denials of credit for no apparent reason.
  2. Inspect It: Review your financial accounts and billing statements for discrepencies or suspicious activity and review your credit by obtaining a credit report every year. (Agencies and phone numbers are included in the first section of this article.)
  3. Guard It: Guard your personal information; carry only the identification you need; leave things like passports, birth certificates, Social Security cards, PIN numbers and passwords in a safe place. Never give out personal information over the phone or via the Internet unless you initiate contact. Never release your PIN or password. Find out how information given to legitimate companies will be used and who will have access to it.
  4. Watch It: Mind your mail and trash, take outgoing mail to the Post Office, promptly pick up delivered mail, have mail held at the Post Office when on vacation. If possible, bring trash to the curb just prior to pickup. Shred all personal documents before throwing it away.
  5. Protect It: Password protect accounts, change your password frequently, don't use identifiable information like birthdays, wedding or anniversary dates, or any portion of your Social Security number, phone number or home address as your password.
  6. Opt Out of It: Get off of solicitation lists. Opt out of receiving credit card offers in the mail by calling 1-888-5-OPTOUT. Contact the National Credit Bureaus and Inquire about the "OPT OUT" plan.
  7. Report It: Alert all three major credit bureaus to request a "Fraud Alert" on your credit report. This alerts creditors to verify your identity before they issue credit in your name. It's good for 90 days and should be requested if you think you are or will be a victim of identity theft. An extended alert lasts for seven years. A credit freeze allows you to restrict access to your credit. There is a cost unless you are a victim. Contact the Attorney General's Office for more information. Contact creditors to close compromised or fraudulent accounts.

Police also recommend documenting everything. File a police report if your identity has been stolen, and keep a log of all conversations, dates, times, names and phone numbers when dealing with the authorities and financial institutions. Confirm conversations in writing. Send correspondence by certified mail and keep copies of all letters and documents.

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