Vol 7 No. 3 - October 11, 2006

How to spot and prevent identity theft
By Louise Bolger
sun staff writer

Another week has passed and so far no one is interested in becoming me. I’m not really surprised, since sometimes I don’t even want to be me, but then I know me better than the thieves who have stolen my personal data. Just in case there is someone who wants to become you, here’s what to look for and how to stop them.

Identity thieves can obtain your personal information in a variety of ways. They can get it through theft or fraud from businesses’ physical and computer files. Your mail could be stolen or your trash gone through. Employees of companies who have access to your social security numbers could steal this information. Your wallet or purse could be stolen or your home robbed.

There is even danger when you swipe your credit card to make a purchase through a procedure called "skimming" that can capture your information on a storage device setup for this purpose. Also, computer hackers can try to get into your personal information by posing as a bank, insurance company or mortgage company asking for personal information via e-mail.

Identity thieves will use this information to set up new credit cards in your name, open bank accounts, purchase cars, get driver’s licenses, establish phone service, obtain loans and even file for bankruptcy to avoid paying the debts they have incurred while using your name. Arrest warrants can even be issued in your name for actions taken by the individuals using your stolen identity information.

If this happens to you, it could take you years to clean up your credit reports before you can apply for a mortgage or any other form of credit. It is vital to stay on top of your credit at all times. Everyone is entitled to a free annual credit report from all three of the reporting companies, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion every 12 months. Take advantage of this important service. This is especially critical if you’re going to purchase a home. Make sure your credit reports are accurate and have any items that are not yours removed from the reports. Report missing or stolen credit cards as soon as possible and file police reports for burglaries and more serious thefts.

As stated previously, filing a fraud alert and adding monitoring protection is vital as soon as you are aware that your identity may have been stolen. Frequently, however, you don’t know until erroneous charges occur on credit cards or an invalid withdrawl is made from a bank account. But as soon as you are aware of a problem, take swift action.

Most of the time money stolen will be returned and credit reports cleared, but not before you have spent untold hours trying to fix the problem and unaccounted for stress in your life. Because of the incredible increase in identity theft, consideration should be given to having a monitoring service become a permanent part of your accounts.

All of this information and then some, can be obtained by requesting a copy of "Take Charge Fighting Back Against Identity Theft" published by the Federal Trade Commission. The publication is free and can be obtained by calling 1-877-438-4338 or online at www.consumer.gov/idtheft. You can also download a PDF of the booklet .

I trust this is the last time I have to write about identity theft, it surely won’t be the last time I have to think about it. If there is someone out there who would like to be me, I hope you’re 25 and wear a size 6. That might make it all worth it.

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