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Protecting Your Identity

For those who follow me on a regular basis, I offer information and training on strategies to empower your life.

As a therapist, I have written on the themes of communication, relationships, marriage, turning stress into productive energy, taking charge of your life and ways to grow emotionally, mentally and spiritually.

Two other themes I have addressed is time management and financial responsibility.  On this last, I have invited Maya Sullivan to share ways to prevent identity theft.

This is her expertise and I think you will enjoy the information she has to share, information pertinent to the age and time we live in. At the bottom of the post you will find links to Maya’s website where you will be able to read her blog and find a list of her upcoming seminars.

10 Tips to Prevent Identity Theft

By Maya Sullivan

Identity theft is a serious crime that affects millions of Americans each year.

-Ben Bernanke

Identity theft is a popular occupation. New and ingenious ways are being created daily to compromise a person’s identity and good credit. Potential victims include children, teens and adults.

When a thief steals one’s identity, they can get new credit cards, a driver’s license, rent a condo, borrow money and a multitude of other things.

Many large organizations have had their computer systems hacked resulting in the theft of customer information.

It is wise to do what one can to prevent being a victim of identity theft.

1. Fraud Alerts

When you place a fraud alert on your credit report it helps protect you from someone getting credit in your name. You can still obtain credit by listing your phone number so potential creditors can phone you to verify you are the real person.

When you place an alert at any of the three major credit bureaus, they notify the other two. This also allows you to obtain a free credit report at the time.

The three credit bureaus are:

  1. www.Experian.com
  2. www.Equifax.com
  3. www.TransUnion.com

The fraud alerts and their duration are:

  • Fraud alert – 90 days (You can do this even if you have not experienced identity theft.)
  • Military active duty alert – 1 year
  • Extended fraud victim alert – 7 years

Some scammers have been known to place fraud alerts–using their own phone number–on targeted victims.  Then when a creditor calls to verify identify, they are actually calling the thief!

2. Security Freezes

These are similar to fraud alerts but block any creditor from viewing your credit report. You can temporarily lift it when you apply for credit but it may cause delays in processing credit applications.

You can add a security freeze to a minor’s credit report. Children are also targets of identity theft.

Security freezes need to be added to each credit bureau—Experian.com, Equifax.com and TransUnion.com. It is not automatic as with a fraud alert.

3. Review Credit Reports

It is wise to review your credit reports at each of the three credit bureaus annually. You can do this for free at www.annualcreditreport.com/

Be aware that there are many sites offering free credit reports. The only official one is AnnualCreditReports.com.

Experian offers a free monthly credit report and they send emails if there are any changes.

All three credit bureaus offer additional identity theft protection services for a fee.

4. Credit Alerts

These are helpful tools to place on bank accounts and credit cards. When a transaction is made on your accounts you will notified by text, email or both.

When someone made a $400 charge on my credit card, I received an alert within 60 seconds.

5. Don’t Give Personal Information Over the Phone or in Emails

Scammers may call or send emails representing a legitimate company and asking for information about your account. Call your bank or credit card provider to see if they are trying to contact you.

6. Review Bank & Credit Card Accounts and Statements

Signup for online statements and review them as soon as they become available for any unauthorized charges. It is prudent to go online weekly to view all your accounts with an organization.

Sham accounts. A major bank has received much unfavorable publicity about some of their practices. Bank employees allegedly opened an estimated 3.5 million unauthorized accounts in customer names.

It is wise to go online checking bank and credit card accounts weekly. Many banks list all a person’s accounts on one page. Then each account can be selected to reveal more details.

7. Passwords

Use different passwords for your accounts. Include special symbols and numbers to make them more difficult to decipher.

8. Shred all Documents

Personal information appears on receipts, junk mail and a variety of documents. Shred anything that includes your address, phone number, account numbers and other personal information.

I knew a stockbroker who dumpster dived in a bank’s trash container. He grabbed computer reports of customer certificates of deposit (CDs) that were coming up for renewal. Personal information and the amount of the CD were listed.

9. Pay Bills Online

Paying bills online limits the number of people who see your checks. An easy way to do this is set automatic payments on utilities and other regular payments by charging them to your credit card. You will receive an email when a payment posts to your account. Review your credit card statement monthly.

10. Scam Alerts

Many swindles have been around for some time and new ones are created daily. Scams are a way for person to obtain personal information and money.

A few examples include:

  • A call from a grandchild impersonator saying they are stranded somewhere or in jail and need the grandparent to wire money.
  • A police officer calling saying there is a warrant for your arrest. You can avoid being arrested by paying him money.
  • An IRS agent calls demanding money. (The IRS only contacts people through the mail).
  • Employment offers even though you never contacted the company. I recently received one of these. It was supposedly, Seattle’s HR Director yet the sender had an obscure email address in Romania.
  • Computer virus cons involve calls from someone claiming they are from a well-known company such as Microsoft and that they have detected a virus on your computer. They offer to remove the virus by taking over control of your computer and then stealing personal information. They forget to mention the thieving part of the deal!
  • W-2 information thieves pose as being from a person’s real employer requesting information.
  • Phantom debt collectors—some posing as attorneys—are another popular trick that is spreading.

This is a small sampling of the hoaxes that already exist.

Thieves sometimes steal a person’s identity and wait months, even years before acting on it.

3 Things to Do If Identity Theft Happens

  1. Report identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) www.ftc.gov.
  2. File a report with your local police department.
  3. Contact the fraud department of companies where you have accounts and notify them that your accounts have been compromised.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

-Benjamin Franklin

To follow Maya on her website and learn more about what she does and upcoming September and October seminars, go to the following website links:  http://www.mayasullivan.com/ and http://www.daretobeyourownboss.net/

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