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Coach Mom Newsletter - FEB 2011

Protecting Against Identity Theft

Recently my husband and I, when applying for a car loan through our local bank, were shocked to see a full list of unpaid bills on our credit report. Every home loan we had ever applied for we were told they had never seen such stellar credit. But not this time -- we had no idea where all the charges had come from. We realized we had been the victims of identity theft. Someone had assumed his identity by attaching his name with Chris’ Social Security number (which is how credit reports are identified). Because I don’t want you to suffer the same scenario, I am dedicating this month’s newsletter to discussing ways to combat identity theft and also help you know what to do if you suspect you may be a victim of identity theft already.

Identity Theft Defined

Identity theft is when someone establishes a parallel identity by using someone else’s personal information without their knowledge. This might be for the purpose of obtaining new credit cards, applying for loans, renting an apartment, or even covering up crimes such as traffic infractions or felonies.

Identity Theft Explained

With as little information as a Social Security number, birth date, address and phone number and a false driver’s license with the imposter’s own picture, one can begin the crime. Negligent credit grantors receiving credit applications with “new address” claims rush to issue credit without confirming information or the address. That account added to the other information adds credibility when the person then goes to apply for a loan at a bank, for example. The victim’s credit is destroyed when the imposter fails to pay the bills.

Identity Theft Prevented

Listed below are some suggestions given by Crown.org to try and prevent your personal information getting in the hands of an identity theft:

✦ Shred all important papers and correspondence with your name and/or address on them - especially preapproved credit applications received in your name. Don’t forget to shred your credit card receipts. Never toss them in a public trash container.
✦ Be careful of “dumpster divers.” Be sure that you do not throw away anything that someone could use to assume your identity.
✦ Be careful using ATMs and phone cards. “Shoulder surfers” can see your pin number and get access to your accounts.
✦ Do not put checks in the mail at your home mailbox. Mail theft is common. It’s easy to change the name of the recipient on the check with an acid wash.
✦ If you possibly can, get a post office box or a locked mailbox.
✦ Don’t give personal information on the phone, through the mail, or over the Internet unless you have initiated the contact or know with whom you're dealing. Identity thieves may pose as representatives of banks, Internet service providers, and even government agencies to get you to reveal your Social Security number, mother's maiden name, financial account numbers, and other identifying information. Legitimate organizations have the information they need and will not ask for it.
✦ When you are asked for identification by schools, employers, or any other kind of institution, ask to use an alternative to your Social Security number. Unfortunately, your health insurance carrier often uses your Social Security number as your identification number. Try to change that if you can.
✦ Cancel all credit cards that you do not use or have not used in six months. Thieves use these very easily; open credit is a prime target.
✦ Put passwords on all accounts and do not use your mother’s maiden name. Make up a fictitious word.
✦ Memorize Social Security numbers and passwords. Do not carry your Social Security card with you or use your Social Security number as your driver’s license number.
✦ Don’t carry a checkbook. Pay by cash or credit card.
✦ Don’t put your Social Security number on checks or credit receipts.
✦ Don’t put phone numbers on checks.
✦ Don’t put your credit card number on the Internet unless it is encrypted on a secured site.
✦ Monitor all bank statements for every credit card every month.
✦ Order a credit report at least yearly and review it carefully. If you see anything that appears fraudulent, immediately put a fraud alert on your reports by calling the numbers listed under the resources section below.
✦ Immediately correct all mistakes on your credit reports in writing. Send those letters Return Receipt Requested, and identify the problems item by item, with a copy of the credit report going back to the credit reporting agency. You should hear from them within 30 days.
✦ Make a list of all your credit card account numbers and bank account numbers and keep them in a safe place. (Do not keep it on the hard drive of your computer if you are connected to the Internet.)

Source: http://www.crown.org/pamphlets/pdfs/IdentityTheft.pdf

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Ask Coach Mom

Dear Brenna,

Last week my husband and I were turned down for a home loan. We were amazed to see a long list of unpaid bills that we knew nothing about. Now I’m wondering if my trash can was a thief’s pot of gold. I had always heard you should shred the credit card applications that come in the mail, but honestly, I have been so worn out from changing diapers and cleaning house that I couldn’t imagine adding one more thing to my to-do list. Since I get those applications in the mail every day I’m guessing that was what opened the door for identity theft. What can I do now?

Crying over my Credit Report

Dear Crying over my Credit Report,

Unfortunately identity theft is an ever-increasing problem, now ranking as the number one non-violent crime in the U.S. Immediately notify your financial institutions if you haven’t already. Although you probably won’t be liable for more than $50 of the imposter’s bill (15 USC 1643), you are the one who will have to work months or even years to straighten out the credit mess the imposter has made. Report the theft to the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-ID-THEFT. Or, visit the FTC consumer website, www.consumer.gov/idtheft. To stop the thief’s further use of your identity, do this immediately.

According to Crown.org, these are actions a victim of identity theft can take:

✦ Immediately call all credit card issuers and get replacement cards with new account numbers.
✦ File a police report and keep a copy with you at all times. Even if the police can't catch the identity thief in your case, having a copy of the police report can help you when dealing with creditors.
✦ Call the fraud units of the three credit reporting companies: Experian (888-397-3742), Equifax (800-525-6285), and Trans Union (800-680-7289). Ask for your account to be flagged, and add a victim’s statement to the report. You also can contact the National Fraud Information Center (800-876-7060) for step-by-step instructions on how to proceed.
✦ Notify your bank of the theft. Get a new ATM card with a new account number and password.
✦ Contact the Social Security Administration (800-269-0271).
✦ Report fraudulent checks to Telecheck 1-800-710-9898, Check Rite 1-800-766-2748, National Processing Co. 1-800-526-5380, or Equifax 1-800-437-5120.
✦ Create a paper trail of all correspondence and phone calls you make as you attempt to restore your name and financial identity. Keep copies of all documentation.

Source: http://www.crown.org/pamphlets/pdfs/IdentityTheft.pdf


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Want to Check Your Credit?

Credit Bureaus

To order your report, call 800-685-1111 or write to PO Box 740241, Atlanta GA 30374-0241.
To report fraud, call 800-525-6285 or write to PO Box 740241, Atlanta GA 30374-0241.

To order your report, call 888-EXPERIAN (397-3742) or write to PO Box 949, Allen TX 75013-0949.
To report fraud, call 888-EXPERIAN (397-3742) or write to PO Box 949, Allen TX 75013-0949.

Trans Union—www.tuc.com
To order your report, call 800-916-8800 or write to PO Box 1000, Chester PA 19022.
To report fraud, call 800-680-7289 or write to Fraud Victim Assistance Division, PO Box 6790, Fullerton CA 92634.

Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint or to get free information on any of 150 consumer topics, call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357) or use the online complaint form at their website. 

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