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Daily living in today's world exposes us to situations where criminals can acquire information that can lead to identity theft.

What is identity theft?

Identity theft occurs when someone steals your personal information and poses as you. They may open credit card accounts, apply for loans, rent apartments and establish cell phone service — all in your name. In many instances, they request address changes for you, so you never see the bills for their activity. These impersonators spend as much money as possible — in a very short time. Most people never know this is happening until they apply for a loan or receive a call from a collection agency. Clearing up the effects of identity theft can be a nightmare, and it takes time. You can spend months or even years re-establishing your creditworthiness.

How is personal financial information stolen?

Over the phone — by someone posing as your employer, bank or other service provider to confirm or update your information
From your mailbox — stealing items in your mailbox (incoming and outgoing) such as credit card offers, account statements & bill payments
Your garbage can — discarded bank statements, credit card offers, canceled checks
Internet sites — entering personal information on a site that is not secure
Where you shop — a clerk may copy personal information written on a check
Post Office — someone may initiate a change of address on your behalf
Fake Charity Collectors -- People posing as collectors for charity get your name, address, phone number and even your social security number for the "fake receipt" they give you.
Fake Email-- Email from crooks who ask you to confirm account information for your bank, ISP or other seemingly legitimate source

How can I help prevent identity theft?

Regularly review your credit reports. The credit bureaus offer services, such as Equifax Credit Watch, that can help you monitor any inquiries against your credit file.
Don't give out financial information on the phone unless you initiated the call. This means your Social Security number, credit card or checking account numbers. Your bank will never call you and ask you to provide that information.
Store all personal and financial information in a safe place, especially if you have outside workers in your home.
Report any lost or stolen checks immediately. Ask your bank to stop payment on any missing checks.
Review your new checks when delivered to make sure none are missing.
Store new checks and canceled checks in a safe place. Be sure to tear up or shred any checks that you are discarding.
Don't share any of your passwords or PINs. Be sure you enter them discreetly so no one can see. Also, properly store or dispose of your ATM receipts.
Tear up any financial solicitations or documents before throwing away. Use a shredder when possible.
Outgoing mail should be placed in a secure mailbox, instead of being left in your own mailbox.
Pick up your mail promptly. If you're going to be on vacation, ask someone you trust to collect your mail for you while you are away, or ask the Post Office to hold your mail until you return. You can get an Authorization to Hold Mail form at your local post office
Keep an eye on your monthly bills. If they don't arrive as expected, contact the company to investigate. Look for any suspicious charges and report them immediately.

What do I do if I'm a victim?

If you find you have become a victim of identity theft, you should take action by communicating with the credit bureaus and any companies that may be involved.

Credit and charge card fraud costs cardholders and banks hundreds of millions of dollars every year. The theft of your credit cards is a common way to commit fraud, but someone can use your account number fraudulently while your card sits safely in your wallet.

The following tips will help you reduce the chances that you will become a victim of credit card fraud:

Sign your cards immediately once they arrive in the mail.
Memorize your PIN and don't write it on anything, especially something in your wallet.
Don't enter your card online unless you're on a secure site. Don't send your credit card number in an email.
Keep a record of all your account numbers, expiration dates, and contact information for each issuer. This will come in handy if your wallet is lost or stolen.
Report a lost or stolen card right away. Quick action will minimize potential loss and liability.
Save your receipts to compare against your billing statement. When discarding receipts, tear them up or shred them.
Monitor your statements monthly, making sure you recognize all charges. If you see any suspicious transactions, contact your bank immediately.
Carefully review receipts for voided transactions and be sure they do not post to your account.
Destroy your carbons. Do not leave them behind without tearing them up.
Don't leave your purse, wallet, cards or receipts unattended. Always keep them secure or in your sight.
Only carry cards that you need, leaving others in a safe place at home.
Don't give out your account number unless you know and trust the company.
Don't give out your account number to someone calling you. Call them back to ensure the company is legit

Precautions to consider when using an ATM:

Be sure ATM and parking lot are well lit when using at night. Avoid going alone.
Don't use an ATM if you notice any suspicious activity.Be aware of your surroundings at all times. Find another ATM, or come back at a safer time. Report any suspicious activity to the police.
Don't count your money at the ATM. Wait until you are in your car or, even better, are safely at home.
When using Drive-up ATMs, keep your doors locked, other windows rolled up and the car running.
Prepare yourself by filling out all deposit slips ahead of time.
Report your lost or stolen card immediately.

When traveling, here are some security precautions to consider:

Carry limited cash. Use traveler's checks or withdraw money with your ATM card as you need it. Keep your traveler's check receipts in a safe place that is separate from your traveler's checks.
Keep a spare credit card in a safe place like a money belt or in the hotle safe, where you are staying. Only carry the cards that you'll need. If your wallet gets stolen or lost, and a spare is in a safe place, you'll have another credit card you can use.
Know where you're going. It's a good idea to find out where the less safe parts of town are so you can avoid them, especially at night. Use GPS in your car when possible.
Make a photocopy of your passport. Keeping a photocopy of your passport will help if yours is lost or stolen. In the event of loss or theft of your passport, visit the closest embassy or consulate.

Don't let your mail accumulate while you're away. If you're going to be on vacation, ask someone you trust to collect your mail for you while you are away, or ask the Post Office to hold your mail until you return.

If you're a victim of fraud, here are some important actions you should take:

File a report with your police department. Make sure to keep a copy for your files.
Contact the fraud departments of all three credit bureaus and let them know you are a victim of identity theft. They can place a "fraud alert" on your file. This informs any credit grantors that they should be especially careful when authenticating anyone who is applying for credit in your name. You should also request copies of your credit report from each bureau. This request must be in writing and they should be free if you mention you have experienced fraud. For further information, contact each bureau at the numbers listed below.

Equifax: 1-800-525-6285
Experian: 1-888-397-3742
Trans Union: 1-800-680-7289

Contact all lending institutions that issued a fraudulent account in your name. Close all the accounts immediately.

Report the incident to the Identity Theft Hotline at 1-877-438-4338. This hotline is operated by the federal government and is a central point for reporting identity theft. You can also report the incident via their Web site at Deter. Detect. Defend. Avoid ID Theft or by mail at:

Identity Theft Clearing House
Federal Trade Commission
600 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC 20508

Contact your nearest postal inspection service if you believe your mail has been stolen. .
Close all your accounts that have had a fraudulent address change. When re-opening accounts, ask that a special password be required when making any changes to your account.

Contact the major check verification companies if you have had any checks stolen or used fraudulently. They can help you track your checks.
Equifax Check Systems: 1-800-437-5120
Cross Check: 1-707-586-0431
SCAN: 1-800-262-7771
TeleCheck: 1-800-710-9898

Contact your broker and the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) if you suspect your investment accounts have been tampered with.

Have you been a victim of identity theft? If so, how did you deal with it? Can you suggest other measures to thwart identity thieves?


The U.S Federal Trade Commission has an IDENTITY THEFT HOME PAGE which offers advice on detecting and dealing with identity theft. Also available on this site is the procedure to file a report in the event you have been a victim of ID theft.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in Canada have a website devoted to prevention of identity theft. The Phonebusters site describes the various scams on the internet, phishing, email scams and provides strategies to protect yourself and your computer.

Check out what the Mounties have to say CLICK HERE

Internet surfers urged to take Phishing IQ Test


While living in the U.S. there are frequent alerts in the news in connection with ID theft.

One favorite is for thieves to insert a device to copy credit card info from self serve gasoline pumps.

In fact, I was a victim of this technique a couple of years ago, and fortunately my credit card company alerted me when a purchase was made outside my buying profile. The card was canceled and I had no further problem.

However I noticed in Canada, many businesses, particularly restaurants display your entire credit card number, expiry date and your name on the paper copy of the bill they keep!

This is a real threat to ID theft, because a dishonest employee who might be handling these receipts could copy the information and either use it or sell it for unauthorized purchases.

Once the seller has received authorization from the credit card company after swiping your card, they no longer need the detailed credit card info.

I always scratch out this information before signing the receipt.

People who have become victims of ID theft have in some cases had to spend years recovering their credit ratings

Have you ever known someone who has been a victim of ID theft?
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