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Protecting Identity I
Protecting Identity II


Personal Finance . . .


In Part I of protecting your identity, I discussed minimizing your risk if your identity is stolen. Some of the suggestions included never carrying your social security card in your wallet or purse; not writing your pin number on your credit cards or ATM card; and shedding all bills and any other important paper items with your personal information on it. Another suggestion is to alert your creditors if you do not receive a statement. Someone could have diverted your mail and collected your credit card numbers. The most important move you should make is to place passwords on your credit accounts. REMEMBER; do not use your nick name, your pets name, your birth date or any other distinguishing name associated with you. Most of the time, if the thief did not steal your identity from information they found, it may be a family member or friend.

Elderly persons are most at-risk to identity theft because most elderly persons have recognized the importance of good credit and most have savings and other valuable property. A lot of elderly persons are dependent on others for care and as such are in a vulnerable position where identity theft can easily occur.

I participated in an investigation where we busted a group that made phony credit cards. The ring would get credit card numbers from various sources and create driverís licenses and social security cards to match and sent their runners out to run up unauthorized charges. When the police busted their operation, they had credit card machines with plates for the different credit cards such as American Express, Visa, Master Card, Discovery and different department stores.

The ring would also receive orders from customers who were in this country illegally or who just wanted a new identity. The new identity included a social security number and drivers license. The person was able to work and drive a car. The cost for this kind of service runs around $2,000 to $3,000. I had a client once who received a letter from the Internal Revenue Service stating they owed $12,000 in back taxes, interest, and penalties. The IRS stated that the client had not reported wages in the amount of $21,000. It took the client almost two years to get the matter resolved.

One way to minimize your risk from someone stealing your identity is not to give out information over the telephone. For example, someone may call you stating you've just won something and all they need is to verify your address and social security number. Another scheme used often is to state that you are a good credit customer and the company wants to increase your credit line and again wants to verify your information. If this should happen to you, your response should be that you do not give out this information over the telephone. If it is a department store or credit card company calling, tell them that whatever information they have on file is correct and nothing has changed. The most important thing you can do is hang up immediately. Do not get into any conversations with these people. REMEMBER, they are professionals and have all kinds of answers to any statements you may make and will talk you into giving the information they want even though you are reluctant to give the information.

If you discover that you are a victim of identity theft, you should act quickly. You must contact all of your creditors letting them know what happened. You are responsible for the first $50.00, however if you wait, you may be responsible for a lot more, if not all. You should have a list of your credit cards and their numbers in a safe place. On this list you should have the telephone number to call in an emergency.

Here are the steps to take immediately should you become a victim. Contact the fraud division of the three credit reporting agencies to let them know you have been a victim of identity theft. Equifax: 800-525-6285; Experian: 888-397-3742; and Trans Union: 800-680-7289. Request they place a "fraud alert" on your file. This alert will warn lenders to be especially careful in authenticating identity of anyone claiming to be you. It will mean that you cannot open instant credit, for example, at a retail store, but that is a minor inconvenience in light of the damage identity theft will do to you. Because some people are vigilant, it has taken up to three years to recover from identity theft. I always suggest to my clients they place a strip on their credit where the signature line is stating: ASK FOR IDENTIFICATION.

The next thing you should do is file a report with the police department. Because identity theft is on the rise, most police departments have stolen identity task forces set up. There was a report in the news several weeks ago where several people had started using the identity of persons who died in the World Trade Center incident on September 11, 2001. The thieves have at least 6,000 plus identities they can choose from. Do you see how fast the thieves have started acting on this information? It could happen to you the same way.

The most important thing you must do is contact, in writing, the creditors that have fraudulent charges on your credit reports and tell them the charges are fraudulent and to remove them from your accounts. Explain to them the actions that you have taken and give the police report number and the name of the detective that is assigned to your case. Ask to have your accounts closed and request a new account and remember to put a password on the accounts. Again, when your identity is stolen, it will take some time before the situation is straightened out. You must be patient.

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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