Magazine article Techniques

Identity Theft: Protect Yourself

Magazine article Techniques

Identity Theft: Protect Yourself

Article excerpt

JUST RECENTLY, I OPENED UP MY MAIL TO FIND QUITE a bit of a shock. At my residence in Washington D.C., I had rung up close to $1,300 in phone bills, absconded from any responsibility in paying off the bill, and all three nationwide consumer reporting agencies were now noting it as a major delinquency on my credit reports. There were, of course, some problems. I have never lived in Washington, D.C., have never done business with the phone company in question, and since my college years I have approached the issue of paying off debt with a degree of fanaticism. I was the victim of identity theft, and I wasn't alone.

Last year, nine million people in America had their identities stolen, according to TransUnion--one of three nationwide consumer reporting agencies in the United States. And working to repair the damage takes a lot of time, including the endless calls and letters you'll have to write to your creditors and consumer reporting agencies to report the crime; you may also find that an overworked criminal justice system is indifferent to your plight.

I was lucky in a sense because I had begrudgingly paid to enroll in a credit identity protection program with a credit card company; this made me privy to regular alerts about activities in my file. I have no idea how someone stole my information, and subsequently used it in a criminal manner, but here's what the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says you can do to deter, detect and defend against identity theft.

Deterrence is the First Defense

* Get a shredder to shred financial documents with personal information that can fall into the wrong hands.

* Vociferously guard your social security number; never carry it around with you or write it down on a check.

* Don't give out your personal information to anyone unless you know with whom you are dealing.

* Do not click on links sent in unsolicited e-mails; use firewalls, anti-spyware and anti-virus software to protect your home computer; make sure to renew software so that it is current. Visit OnGuardOnline.gov for more details on this issue.

* Keep your information secure at home, especially if you have roommates or have outside help of any kind coming into your home.

Detection is Key

The FTC notes that consumers should be very diligent in seeking out suspicious activity. …

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