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Personal Finance . . .

PROTECTING YOUR IDENTITY

Have you ever gone on the net and typed your name into a search engine site? You would be surprised at what comes up. Today, there are more and more people with the same name. Not only first and last name, but first name, middle name, and last name. Try it sometimes and see what happens.

Itís easy to become you without your knowledge. Identity theft is such a big business that police departments around the country are forming task force to handle the many complaints that are filed everyday. Because of the gravity of the problem, and the fact that there is so much information to give, this column will be presented in two or three parts. The first part will consist of how identity theft occurs and minimizing your risk. The second part will discuss what happens if you are a victim, and lastly how to resolve the problem.

First, letís look at how someone could steal your identity. The basic information that a thief needs to steal your identity is your name, date of birth, and social security number. In other words, the identity theft occurs when someone appropriates your personal information without your knowledge. The only reason they would misappropriate this information is to commit fraud or theft.

Letís look at some case scenarios. A clerk working in Human Resources receives resumes and applications every day. Her job was to place the resumes and applications in the mail boxes of the different departments for managers to review. Letís look at the kind of information she has at her disposal. She has names, addresses, telephone numbers, social security numbers, nearest relatives, educational and job information, and much more. As we delve into this subject we will see what the clerk could do with the information.

Next, a couple has been saving money and sacrificing for several years and decides it is time to apply for a mortgage to purchase their first home. They think their credit is in good shape since they only have one credit card each and their debt ratio is within range to qualify for a mortgage. You can imagine their surprise when they find they have credit cards and store accounts open in their names. Worst of all is all the accounts are in collection. We will learn later what the process is for cleaning up their credit.

The last scenario is an elderly couple who are almost forced out of their home because someone signed their names as co-signers for an automobile. The same person took out a mortgage on their property. This is a very difficult situation because they have found it was their son and they didnít want him to get in trouble. These scenarios and many, many more happen daily in this country.

Letís discuss how to minimize your risk. Now, you canít completely protect yourself from identity theft. If someone is intent on getting your information or they want to get you for some reason, then they will go all out and get the information. In this article, we are discussing the thief who is an opportunist. If you leave the information out and/or you are an easy target, then your identity will be taken.

So letís look at some things you can do to minimize your chances of being a victim of identity theft. First, take your social security card out of your purse and/or wallet. Memorize the number and put it away in a safe place. Never, ever put your social security number on your resume or application. If a potential employer asks for your social security number, explain that you only give the number out when you are hired.

A thief can get your personal information by stealing your purse. What do you keep in your purse? You drivers license, credit cards, telephone book, etc. Do you write your pin number on the back of your credit or ATM cards? Donít! Another way a their can get your information is by ďdumpster divingĒ or going through your trash. Donít throw away credit card statements, tax information, or anything else that has your personal information on it. Buy a cheap shredder and shred everything that has your information on it.

Some other examples of identity theft could be: putting in a change of address to divert your mail; using personal information you share on the internet; making counterfeit checks and draining your bank account; establishing credit in your name; getting a cell phone; moving into an apartment; and too many more to mention.

To minimize your risk from identity theft, you must manage and guard your personal information. Deposit all outgoing mail in the mailbox or at the post office. Read all credit card statements. Get a copy of your credit report at least once a year. If you find anything on the report that looks suspicious, write to the credit reporting agency and have the information removed.

By all means, donít share your personal information with anyone unless it is absolutely necessary. I always suggest that my clients put passwords on all of their accounts, including their utilities. When using a password, donít use your initials, your petís name, and/or any other obvious name that can be associated with you.

Next time, we will discuss what happens when your identity is stolen and what to do about it. Any questions?  You can contact me at: pi-eye@investigator-ct.com or visit my website at:  http://www.investigator-ct.com/pi-eye.html. 

Be careful!

Christine Adams Tripp, JD is a licensed private investigator in the State of California. She teaches law and private investigations in several colleges and vocational schools. Ms. Tripp has been an investigator since 1969 and teaching since 1983.

 

 

 

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