Identity theft is becoming the fastest growing crime these days and has become the number one consumer complaint reported by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). In 2004, approximately 380,000 people were victims of this crime at a cost of $343 million. And it shows no sign of stopping. The main reason for this is that it's relatively easy to do. All it really takes is a computer and some of your basic information, especially your social security number, credit card or bank account number.
According to the FTC, it can take around 600 hours to clean up all of your records if you are a victim of identity theft. In some cases, it's taken years before the person was finally able to clear their name.
Here are some basic guidelines to keep from becoming an identity theft victim:
1) Never give out your vital information (social security number, credit card number, bank account number, etc.) over the telephone, the Internet or when responding to offers you receive in the mail from people you don't know. [Editor's Note: Except if you initiate the transaction by dialing the number or visiting the website (by typing in the address, not by clicking in an email) of a trusted merchant.]
2) Always remain in control of your incoming and outgoing mail, especially if you are going to be out of town on vacation. Always pick up your mail from your mailbox as soon as possible.
3) When discarding papers, shred any document that contains your personal information, especially credit card receipts or applications, old bills, etc.
4) Review your credit report at least annually or semiannually for incorrect items. If any of these are found, dispute these claims as soon as possible with the appropriate agencies.
5) Check and recheck your credit card and bank statements every month.
6) Check your bank account activity and credit card account charges at least once a week. This can usually be done by calling the bank or credit card's 800 number to access your accounts.
7) Never leave valuable information lying around where people could have access to it. This means on your desk at work, in your car, etc.
8) Be careful with your computer passwords, ATM pass codes, etc.
9) If you are a victim of identity theft, take action right away. Notify your local Police Department, Department of Motor Vehicles, bank and credit card companies.
10) If someone calls you on the telephone offering you any type of business opportunity or to sell you something and they say that they require your bank account or credit card information, take the person's name and contact information and tell them you will be calling them back after you check on their credentials with the proper authorities.
Many online contests are promoted for no other reason than to obtain your personal information so that these organizations can now start to send offers to you by email in the hopes that you will eventually give them your bank account or credit card information.
Another method that is used on the Internet to try to obtain your bank account and credit card information is when you receive an email that appears to be from your Internet Service Provider (ISP) where they inform you that there is a problem with your billing account and they want you to resubmit your information to update their files. If you look at the URL of the web site that the email comes from, you will find that it is usually from a yahoo.com or hotmail.com account. These are free accounts that any scam artist can set up. Legitimate Internet Service Providers (ISPs) firmly state and support their policy of never asking for your password or credit card information.
One example of identity theft occurred a number of years ago when a group from Nigeria targeted professional people like doctors and lawyers. They would actually go to the Post Office and submit a Change of Address card so that their victim's mail would be rerouted to the group's phony mailbox. Since then, the Post Office has implemented a procedure where they contact their customers any time a Change of Address card has been submitted to verify the information.
Junk mail, unsolicited email and telephone calls are a big problem for many people. To help control the situation regarding unsolicited phone calls, you can contact the following websites: http://www.govspot.com/ask/nameofflist.htm; and http://www.donotcall.gov.
Another tactic that you can take is to return any unsolicited mail with a stamped or metered return envelope to the company with a note asking them to remove your name and address from their mailing list. The company has already paid for the postage and envelope, so it won't cost you anything. To have some fun, I add some of my other junk mail in this envelope as well. Hey, if I have to receive this kind of mail, why not share the fun, right?
Here are the three main credit bureaus where you can obtain your credit information:
1) TransUnion - P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92843 or www.transunion.com or (800) 680-7289.
2) Experian - P.O. Box 1017, Allen, TX 75013 or www.experian.com or (888) 397-3742.
3) Equifax - P.O. Box 740256, Atlanta, GA 30374 or www.equifax.com or (888) 766-0008.
Many insurance companies now offer some form of identification fraud protection packages where they might even cover a certain portion of the damages or losses in case of identity theft. It may cost some money to get this implemented, but it could very well be worth it in the long run.
The main thing to remember is to just use common sense. Don't ever give out your credit card information to anyone over the phone. Shred anything that has your vital information on it. Thieves have been known to go scrounging through trash cans to obtain discarded bank and credit card statements. If you live in a high-crime area, perhaps you should consider renting a mailbox at the Post Office or other similar facility.
*** Remember - It's better to be safe than sorry! ***
Excerpted from Scam Alert! Never Be Ripped Off With Home Based Businesses Again! by Christopher Eakes published by Ilumina Press, April 2006. Click here now: http://www.Llumina.com/store/scamalert.htm. Christopher can be reached for questions regarding the subject of this article or about his book at Wealth6309@aol.com. Please put a reference to "Scam Alert" in the header.
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