Sunday, May 9, 2010

Identity Theft Precautions

Colleagues shared this at work recently and many of these suggestions make a lot of sense. The sad part is that not too many years ago, we didn't have to worry about, nor did we even think about, these kinds of things. I've been using some of these myself, but see some new ones I'll add to my defenses.

I hope you find them useful.  Feel free to add any of your own techniques!
  1. The next time you order checks have only your initials (instead of first name) and last name put on them. If someone takes your checkbook, they will not know if you sign your checks with just your initials or your first name, but your bank will know how you sign your checks.
  2. Do not sign the back of your credit cards. Instead, put "PHOTO ID REQUIRED" or "PLEASE CHECK I.D."
  3. When you are writing checks to pay on your credit card accounts, DO NOT put the complete account number on the "MEMO" line. Instead, just put the last four numbers. The credit card company knows the rest of the number, and anyone who might be handling your check as it passes through all the check processing channels won't have access to it.
  4. Put your work phone number on your checks instead of your home phone. If you have a P.O. Box, use that instead of your home address. If you do not have a PO Box, get one and have all mail sent there. Mailbox theft is growing!
  5. Never have your Social Security Number printed on your checks. You can selectively provide it based on the circumstance. But if you have it printed, anyone can get it.
  6. Place the contents of your wallet on a photocopy machine. Do both sides of each license, credit card, etc. You will know what you had in your wallet and all of the account numbers and phone numbers to call and cancel. Keep the photocopies safe. Always carry a photocopy of your passport when you travel either here or abroad. We've all heard horror stories about fraud that's committed on us in stealing a name, address, Social Security number, credit cards.
  7. If you have access to your email via the Internet, scan and email yourself the contact information copied above. If you're traveling and disaster strikes, you can access all of this information just by locating the nearest Internet cafe.
These are great precautions, but if your personal identity information has been compromised, here's some things to do to help limit the damage:
  1. Common wisdom is to cancel credit cards immediately. But the key is having the toll free numbers and your card numbers handy so you know whom to call. Keep those where you can find them.
  2. File a police report immediately in the jurisdiction where your credit cards, etc., were stolen. This proves to credit providers you were diligent, and this is a first step toward an investigation (if there ever is one.)
  3. Call the three national credit reporting organizations (Equifax, Experian, TransUnion) immediately to place a fraud alert on your name and Social Security number. A dangerous application for credit made over the Internet in your name can be stopped in its tracks with this alert on your accounts. This requires the agencies to contact you via phone to authorize new credit.
Here are the critical contact number you'll need:
  • Social Security Administration (fraud line) 800-269-0271
  • Equifax: P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374   800-685-1111
  • Experian (formerly TRW): P.O. Box 2002, Allen, TX 75013   888-397-3742
  • Trans Union: P.O. Box 1000, Chester, PA 19022   800-888-4213