Tuesday, January 22, 2008

What Can You Do to Prevent Identity Theft?

Are you familiar with the expression “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”? This is absolutely true in regards to protecting your identity from being stolen rather than dealing with the trauma and cost of being a victim.

It must be stated here that there are no guarantees that the steps you take will prevent your identity from being stolen. Personal information is available from sources (including government, employment and other business records) that we are not in a position to personally protect.

Taking steps to limit the use of our personal information makes it more difficult to become a target. Proper disposal of personal records and other common sense steps will also thwart any opportunistic thieves.

Here are some steps that every individual should incorporate into the management of their personal information. What you choose to implement will depend on how much time or energy you want to use in protecting your information. Making conscious decisions as to how or when our personal information is shared will give us more control and should become a lifelong habit.

Monitor Your Credit Reports

If you are entitled to one free credit report each year you can request a report every four months by requesting one from each of the three credit agencies in turn. It is wise to check your credit report at least once every year even if you must pay to receive it. If you suspect your identity has been stolen or have received notice of information that has been stolen you may be able to get free reports throughout the first year of the incident.

Don’t Carry Your SSN in Your Wallet

Social Security Numbers, birth certificates, passports or any other personal identification should not be carried in your wallet. The same goes for extra credit cards and store or gas credit cards. The less you carry the less risk if your wallet is stolen or lost.

Stop Pre-Approved Credit Offers

You can stop the mailing of pre-approved credit offers by calling toll-free
888-5OPTOUT (888-567-8688). Ask to have your name removed from the list as pre-approved credit offers can be easily abused by thieves.

Shred Personal Documents

If you do throw away pre-approved credit offers or other personal information (such as old tax forms, bank statements or expired credit cards) you must shred the information before disposing it.

Pick Up the Mail EVERY Day

Don’t allow mail to sit overnight in the mail box or you give thieves an easy target. Credit card offers, bank statements and possibly information with your SSN can be used to open new credit in your name or steal from you.

Don’t Respond to Email Requests

If you are contacted by a bank or service provider through email you must never submit any personal or financial information to them. These attempts to ‘trick’ you into believing they are a legitimate business is called phishing.
If an email claims that you must validate your information and provides you a link to the form DO NOT OPEN THE LINK! If you are concerned that the request may be legitimate close the email and enter the URL to the actual business in your browser window. If your account looks fine contact their customer service department to verify the email. A fraudulent email is called a ‘spoof’ and the company will likely want you to forward it to them.

What is Being Done to Protect Your Privacy?

While government agencies are submitted to legal requirements that protect your personal information, other businesses are not. This makes it vitally important to take steps protecting your information yourself and knowing who has it and what they are doing with it.

State laws do have requirements for the disposal of personal records but the manner of disposal can vary depending on the nature of the information and the resources available to the business. If you do business which requires you to keep personal information on record you must check with local law regarding the disposal of these records.

Fair Information Practice Principles

While the law is still catching up to the needs of individual privacy protection, Europe, Canada and the USA have created a guideline of processes for collecting and using personal information. This guide is called the ‘Fair Information Practice Principles’. It outlines the safeguards necessary to ensure the use of personal information is fair and to protect privacy.

The core principles outlined in the Fair Information Practice Principles are: Notice/Awareness; Choice/Consent; Access/Participation; Integrity/Security; and Enforcement/Redress.

Here is a brief outline of these principles:

Notice and awareness requires businesses requesting personal information to disclose their information practices before collecting information. The following principles listed would be included in the notice.

Choice and consent give the individual the ability to allow or restrict the use of personal information beyond the transaction being initiated. Opt-in or opt-out choices include how much personal information is included and what it may be used for.

Access and participation requires the individual to be able to access, correct or verify their personal information on record. The means of accessing and making corrections must be timely and inexpensive.

Integrity and security refer to the business’ steps to maintain accurate records, secure the information and destroy records in an appropriate manner.

Enforcement and redress must be established either by self-regulation or legislation.

The full report of Fair Information Practice Principles can be found at:

While steps are being made to create enforcement it is up to the individual to be aware of the use and protection provided by each business and agency they provide personal information to.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Who Should Require Your Social Security Number?

There are some government agencies (tax, welfare, Medicare and motor vehicles) who can lawfully require your SSN. Other agencies may request your SSN in a manner that implies you must give it.

You can determine whether the agency has a right to your SSN by reading the disclosure statement that is mandatory on government forms requesting the number. The disclosure statement will tell you if the SSN is required or optional. It also states which agency is requiring the number and what it will be used for. Government agencies have strict laws about the use and storage of SSN’s – private agencies or businesses do not.

You cannot be denied services from government agencies if you refuse to give your SSN unless they are legally required to obtain it or had a law in effect before January 1, 1975 requiring a SSN.

Employers must obtain your SSN to report earnings and payroll taxes. While they are required by law to have your SSN you might ask for them to protect your number if it is used for filing, listed on ID badges or otherwise made public.

Other businesses or agencies, including private medical insurance and schools, may request your SSN. If they are federally funded schools or are reporting to the IRS they may have a legal right to the information. If the reason for the request is not listed on the form you can leave the space provided for your SSN blank and ask for an explanation of why they are requesting it.

While a business may have no legal right to the information they can refuse service if you choose not to disclose it. State laws differ but businesses should not willfully display SSN’s, however, carelessness or inadequate protection of SSN’s may not violate these laws.

Financial information that is of interest to the IRS requires your SSN to be listed. Banking, stocks, employment and other financial statements all must include the number.

Credit card companies may request your SSN but are not legally required to have it. Since the number is used to validate who you are you may be able to provide proof with other forms of identification. Be prepared to have a difficult time finding a creditor who will provide credit if you refuse to submit your SSN.

Since potential creditors (including landlords) may wish to see your credit report you will likely be required to give them your SSN to obtain the report. You may ask if they will accept a current report without the SSN and confirm your identity with other forms of ID.

Federal records, including driver’s license, divorce papers, child support and death certificates all require SSN’s. Birth certificates usually require the SSN’s of both of the parents unless there is good cause for not requiring it.

If you receive email that appears to be from a service provider or government agency that requests your SSN do not reply. This information will not be requested through unsolicited emails and is being sent from a fraudulent source.

You can find out more about the legal requirements for using your SSN at:

Who Has the Right to Access Your Information?

It can be difficult to determine WHO has the right to access your information. This is especially true in situations where you are requested to divulge information such as Social Security Numbers (for employment or rentals). Who has the right to demand that information and do you have the right to refuse?

You may also be concerned with who is accessing your information within businesses or government agencies. Understanding the need for your information can help you judge whether providing it is in your best interest.

Your Social Security Number is Your Biggest Threat

While information such as your name, date of birth, mother’s maiden name, address etc. are easily traced it is your SSN that is the biggest threat. If thieves know your SSN they can access your banking information, utilities and other personal information as well as establish new credit in your name.

Although originally the SSN was only to be used for Social Security programs it is now commonly used for filing purposes including bank accounts, employee, student and medical records. This makes your SSN a free pass gaining access to your personal information.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

What To Do If You Are a Victim Of Identity Fraud - Part 2

While the information above is provided for those living in the US the steps are nearly the same in other countries. Here are some links and numbers to credit and police agencies in the UK, Canada and Australia.

Contact Numbers for the UK

If you are a victim of identity theft in the UK use the following contact information;

Credit Bureaus

• Call Credit: 44 (0) 113 244 1555
www.callcredit.co.uk/ Callcredit plc, One Park Lane, Leeds.
West Yorkshire, LS3 1EP.

• Equifax: 0870 010 2091 for the CIFAS Protective Registration Service
www.equifax.co.uk/ Credit File Advice Centre PO Box 1140, Bradford, BD1 5US

• Experian: 0870 241 6212 (M-F 8-6, Sat 9-1)
www.experian.co.uk/ Experian Ltd, PO Box 9000, Nottingham, NG80 7WP

File a report at your local Police Station. Locate the closest station at http://police.uk.

Contact Numbers for Canada

If you are a victim of identity theft in Canada use the following contact information;

Credit Bureaus
• Trans Union Canada: 1-877-525-3823 (Quebec Residents: 1-877-713-3393)

• Equifax Canada: 1-800-465-7166
www.equifax.ca Equifax Canada Inc. Consumer Relations Department, Box 190 Jean Talon Station, Montreal, Quebec,
H1S 2Z2


PhoneBusters National Call Centre – with a mandate to gather information and intelligence about identity theft PhoneBusters will provide advice and assistance.
Toll free at 1-888-495-8501

Contact Numbers for Australia

If you are a victim of identity theft in Australia use the following contact information;

Credit Bureaus
• Baycorp Advantage: (02) 9464 6000
www.baycorpadvantage.com Public Access Division
Credit Reference Association of Australia

• Dun and Bradstreet (Australia) Pty Ltd: 13 23 33
www.dnb.com.au Attention: Public Access Centre
PO Box 7405, St Kilda Rd VIC 3004

The Australian Crime Commission

The Australian Crime Commission operates an Identity Fraud intelligence facility that can assist victims in notifying some Australian and State government agencies that their identity has been stolen.

Tel: (02) 6243-6666

Contact your local police for instruction if the information for your country is not listed or is incorrect.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

What To Do If You Are A Victim Of Identity Fraud? - Part 1

If the worst has happened and you find out you have indeed been a victim of identity theft (or have reason to suspect it) you must take IMMEDIATE action to control the damage.

Report to the Credit Bureaus

If you are a victim of identity theft you must report it immediately to one of the three major credit bureaus. You only need to call one bureau to place the fraud alert and they will forward the information to the other two. Your SSN will be flagged for 90 days to prevent a thief from trying to obtain new credit with your identification.

If you are certain that your identity has been stolen you can request an extended fraud alert. The extended fraud alert will remain on your report for seven years and will require you to submit an identity theft police report.

Flagging your account will alert potential creditors to take steps to protect you. This will also delay the credit approval process.
The three bureaus are:

o Equifax: 1-800-525-6285
www.equifax.com P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241

o TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289
www.transunion.com Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834-6790

o Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742)
www.experian.com P.O. Box 9532, Allen, TX 75013

You will be asked for your SSN and other identifying information through an automated service. The alert will be passed on to the other two bureaus and all three credit bureaus will send you a letter to confirm the fraud alert is in place. You will also be given directions for obtaining your credit report for free from each of the bureaus.

The credit reports will have a telephone number listed on them if you need to contact the bureaus about fraudulent activity listed on the reports.

Get Copies of Your Credit Report

Send for your credit reports following the instructions from the credit bureaus. Review the reports carefully. Look for creditor’s names that you did not request credit from. Also check your personal information; SSN, address, name, initials and employer information.
Order your credit report at least every three months for the first year of the fraud. Some areas provide a free report every 12 months. Other areas will give you several free reports for the year you report an identity theft. Some will charge for each report. Tell them you are an identity theft victim and ask for a free report.

File a Police Report

Keep records of the fraudulent activity as proof for your report. Blackout unrelated activity and give copies to the police. Give them any new evidence as it turns up and keep a copy of the report as proof for creditors and the credit bureaus.

Collect Account Information

Contact the creditors who issued accounts to the identity thief. The Police may give you a form to request the information. Send a copy of the police report and the account statements to the creditor. Pass any new information over to the police.

Close the Accounts
For NEW Accounts created by the thief: Call the creditors (including credit cards, department stores and cell phone accounts) and ask for their security or fraud department. Tell them you are an identity theft victim and ask them to close the accounts and report the closing to the credit bureau. If the account has already been used by the thief ask them not to hold you responsible for the debt.

For EXISTING Accounts used fraudulently by a thief: Close the accounts and ask the creditors to report the closing to the credit bureaus. Request that they declare the account “closed at consumer’s request”. If you open a new account don’t use personal information like your mother’s maiden name or your SSN for a password. If those are the only options request to use a different password.

Alert Government Agencies

If your driver’s license or other government ID has been stolen report it to the proper agency to cancel it and order a replacement. Ask that your information be flagged so that no one else can get copies.

Complete an Identity Theft Affidavit

In order to remove the debts created by the identity theif you will need to send an affidavit to the company or creditor holding the debt. When you contact them to close the accounts ask what forms they require. The affidavit permits them to investigate the claim – it does not ensure that the debt will be cleared.

While each business may have its own requirements you can also obtain a free affidavit form at: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/credit/affidavit.pdf. Ask the business if they will accept this form or need you to fill out one of theirs.

Send the copies of the affidavit and supporting documents to the businesses (a separate form should be created for each account or institution responsible for providing the identity thief with credit). Do not send original bank or card statements. Blackout any information on the statements not related to the account.

Send a copy of each affidavit and the police report to the credit bureaus. Write a letter requesting the information you declared was a result of theft be blocked or removed from your credit report.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

How Do You KNOW if Your Identity’s Been Stolen?

If you know that your personal information has been accessed or otherwise tampered with there are steps you must take to stop the thieves and try to repair the damage. It is important to stay alert to signs that your information is being used without your consent even when you don’t suspect you’ve been a victim.

Staying alert to these signs will help you respond quickly if your identity has been stolen:

• Unfamiliar charges or withdrawals
Always check your bank and credit card statements and make immediate inquiries to unfamiliar charges and withdrawals.

• Missing mail
If your bills and other mail have gone missing a thief may have broken into your mail box or had your mail redirected to a new address.

• Calls from Creditors
If you are being contacted by creditors you did not do business with you need to take immediate action to find out who has.

• New Credit Cards
Receiving new credit cards or bills that you didn’t sign for is a danger sign that your identity may have been stolen.

• Denial of Credit
Unexplained refusal of credit requires investigation on your part. You need to get access to your credit report right away.