Keeping Your Soul Safe: How to Prevent Identity Theft


Today, identity theft is one of the growing fears in the financial world. One day you wake up, and discover that your life is in ruins – your credit, your name, your finances. You can’t get a house loan, you can’t get a job, you can’t file your taxes. What do you do in this situation? What do you do to prevent this?

Facts and Statistics:

-Up to 700,000 people in the United States may be victimized by identity bandits each year, according to the Justice Dept (during press release 2002 FTC Study)

-Over 500,000,000 fraudulent checks are written each year

-The Secret Service estimates that in 1997, consumers lost more than $745 million due to identity theft

-A recent report on identity theft warned that there is likely to be “mass victimization” of consumers within the next several years.

-Every 79 seconds, a thief steals someone’s identity, opens accounts in the victim’s name, and goes on a buying spree. (, 1/24/01)

– Florida is the number 4 top state for identity theft (CA, NY, TX, FL, IL) in number of victims.

-Types of Identity Theft:

— Financial Fraud

— Debit & ATM fraud

— Checking account fraud

— Savings account fraud

— Store credit account fraud

— Loan account fraud

— Mortgage account fraud

— Identity Cloning (uses your credit rating to live a separate life

— Other crimes

— Drug trafficking

— Smuggling

— Illegal entry into other countrie

— Terrorism

— Money laundering

— Computer crimes

— Shoplifting

— Burglary

How your ID gets stolen:

– Credit cards: Every time you use your credit card, in person, on the phone, or on the Internet, there is a risk that an unscrupulous person may make off with your card details. Locations where staff turnover is high, such as restaurants, bars, and telemarketing companies, are especially high risk. Some thieves sell servers a small ‘skimmer’ that attaches to the inside of a jacket or coat, and will read a credit card when swiped. The server can then sell this ‘skimmer’ for $2000 after he’s swiped 20 cards.

– Don’t Trash It: Unshredded bank statements, credit card solicitations, account statements and other discarded mail is a target.

– Beware of the Workplace: Many times fellow employees steal sensitive information from unsecured personnel files, desks, or trash cans.

– Help Desk Impersonators: Sometimes an innocent call from your phone company, bank, insurance company or broker can be a cover for ID theft. Beware of anyone who needs to verify your address or SSN by YOU supplying the information.

– Check alteration: A recent case involved a man going to each ‘flagged’ mailbox and taking out checks being mailed to GTE. He changed the Payee to G.T. Edwards, opened an account with a fake ID, and cashed the checks. IRS can easily be changed to ‘MRS. XXXX’

– Fraudulent Check Printing: Whether by making color copies of an existing check and altering it or printing fake checks on purchased or stolen check stock, this crime is rising rapidly. There is check-printing software available, and many businesses and individuals now print their own checks.

– Checks Stolen: There are several ways a thief can obtain what he needs to create his own checks with your information:

— Stealing bank statements with cancelled checks from your home or mailbox

— Making a copy of a check you’ve sent out

— If you own a business, a scanned copy of your incorporation papers may be available online at If so, it may have your signature on it, available for anyone to copy.

– Friends and Family: Many cases of ID theft and fraud are committed by family members, friends and roommates

– The Media: Your ID can even be stolen by someone who learned about you from a news story, or your company’s brochure.

– Unlike most crimes, it’s up to YOU to prove yourself innocent and restore your good name and credit. This process can take years and a lot of your own money. In the case of check fraud, you have 60 days to discover something wrong on your bank statements. After that, the bank assumes no liability. The person who is “in the best position to prevent the fraud” is held liable.

– While financial and commercial organizations must exonerate you if their debts were incurred by an impersonator, it is imperative that you act quickly to clear the responsibility for these debts from your name.

– One of the biggest victim complaints is that law enforcement sometimes refuses to take a crime report in identity theft cases. Without a police report, credit issuers simply do not believe that someone else is at fault. Further complicating the process is the fact that identity theft crimes committed in your name may often span several jurisdictions.

Things to do NOW

– Whenever you order checks, do the following:

– NEVER print your social security number on the check – even if asked to by a store clerk. They cannot require it.

– Don’t print your phone number (you can get driving directions to your house with just your phone number)

– Print only your first initial, keeping thieves from knowing either your full name or how you sign your checks

– Use a PO Box address, or a work address.

– Do not write your entire account number on the check when paying credit card bills. Instead, attach a payment coupon and only write the last four numbers on the check. This way, anyone handling your check does not have access to the whole card number.

– Never keep passwords or PIN numbers in your wallet. Even if you don’t indicate which card it is, all a thief has to do is keep trying each card.

– Sign up for the Telemarketer Do Not Call list at

– Sign up for blocking your personal information from being released by the driver’s license department. For Florida, the website is and click on “The Driver Privacy Protection Act”

– Copy both sides of everything in your wallet. In case it is lost or stolen, you need the card numbers AND the phone numbers to call in that they are lost. Obtaining a new drivers license or social security card are also much easier if you have a copy.

— Driver’s license

— Credit cards

— Social Security card

— Student ID

— Military ID

— Insurance cards

— Membership cards

— Voter’s registration

— Passport

— AAA card

– Call or write your three credit bureaus and tell them you want to ‘opt out’ of your information being shared. Whenever you receive a credit card offer, it is because a bureau shared your basic data with them.

– Before revealing personal ID information to anyone who calls you, make absolutely sure you’re dealing with the company you think you are. Arrange to call them back after you’ve found their number from your own sources. If they say they’re from a ‘separate call center’, refuse to deal with them.

– Any time you are required to give personal information, find out how it will be used and if it will be shared with others. Ask if you can choose to keep it confidential.

– Keep track of your billing cycles. If the bills don’t arrive on time, check your address on record with the creditor. If the address is correct, check your mailbox security, and perhaps get a Post Office box.

– Give your social security number only when absolutely necessary. Use other ID if possible.

– Try to limit the number of cards and personal identifiers you carry with you regularly.

– Get a copy of your credit report from all three agencies (listed below) and check for unauthorized activity. Be familiar with what is on your account, and see if there are any errors to be corrected.

– Keep items with personal information in a locked file or safe and in an unusual spot (not the desk drawer), especially if you share your living accommodations. Shred them if you don’t need them anymore.

– Ensure that charge receipts, copies of insurance forms, credit applications, bank checks, statements, and credit offers are shredded.

– Many people have credit cards they don’t use regularly and therefore don’t receive a statement. Check these cards for activity online, or use them at least once a month, in case someone has changed the address and is using it.

– If you are an online retailer, use AVS (Address Verification Service). It will reject any card that has a shipping address different from the mailing address.

– Teller Positive Pay (Bank of America) – you tell the bank what checks you have written, they will refuse any not listed.

– Try online banking – paper checks get handled by an average of 13 people each, while online checks go through 2 people. It is also cheaper transaction, and eliminates paper records to be stolen. The bank can send you a CD with the copies of the fronts and backs of checks.

– If you have been refused credit unfairly, or refused employment due to credit problems, it may be a sign of identity theft.

– Watch out for ‘repair your credit’ scams. They prey on the conscientious but gullible. Most real credit errors can be taken care of yourself, for no cost.

– For passwords, use a series of letters and numbers. Don’t use personal information such as your birthdate, parts of your SSN, or mother’s maiden name. Genealogical data is available in the libraries and over the internet, and can be used to access your accounts. Make it something different, like T5XQ8. Do not store these passwords in your purse or wallet!

– Make sure to have some sort of virus protection software on your computer, and update it regularly.

– Visit ID THEFT for more information on the subject.

Internet Security

– If purchasing from the Internet, check the privacy clause on each company to make sure they don’t hand your information over to ‘partners’.

– Use secure sites on the Internet. If the URL doesn’t start with https://, the data is not encrypted before transmission. (the S stands for secure).

– Some sites list fake security icons to fool the gullible. Click on them to discover if they really are authentic and reliable security companies.

– Print and keep receipts of online transactions. Check your credit card statements to make sure these are the only transactions that clear.

– Keep your PC software up to date with upgrades and security enhancements.

– Beware of installing programs from sites you can’t trust or opening emails with attachments from people you don’t know. Even if it is from someone you know, email them first to ask if they sent it

– it could be a virus on THEIR computer that they are not aware of, sending emails to everyone on their list. Some programs can hide in your PC and communicate your information when you connect to the Web.

– Verify your information: a recent scam involved members of eBay receiving messages requesting them to click on a link to update their personal information. The link took them to a site that appeared exactly like eBay’s secure customer area, but was in fact a bogus site designed to hijack personal ID and credit card information. This is called Phishing, and many companies have had this done to them, including banks, credit unions, AOL, MSN, Earthlink, etc.

– Free credit report emails – most of these are scams, though the three credit reports DO now allow you a free credit report, every 12 months, to monitor your credit. Take advantage of this offer, and do so!

– You have won a free gift or lottery – usually an email or phone call about a free gift or prize – just provide your credit card information for shipping costs.

– Some Nigerian prince who is reaching out to ‘a good person’ in the US who will help him recovery his $10 million from his country. All he needs is a little investment

– Email chain letters and pyramid schemes – There are many of these. They are for the most part illegal and are just variations on the old postal chain letters.

– Emails offering a service to “Find out everything on everyone” – usually just a scam to get your credit card information

– Job Advertisement Scams – there have also been scams involving Internet Job Websites. Never hand out your SSN or birth date on a resume or application until you are certain the company and position is legitimate.

– Charity Scams – we anticipate that consumers will get calls from ‘charities’ asking for donations. Do not provide credit card information over the telephone. Get the mailing address, verify it, and send a check instead.

– CLARK HOWARD, a consumer advocate recommends that you use one card for all internet transactions, one with a relatively low limit. This will limit the damage if there is a security breach. He also has a lot of good information on his website.

Things to do when traveling:

– Copy your passport, itinerary, and plane tickets and keep a copy with you, and one with a trusted relative.

– Stop deliveries to the house to avoid advertising that you are gone, or have a friend pick them (and the mail) up periodically. You can also have the Post Office hold your mail until you get back.

– On your luggage tags, put your work address. This keeps anyone who handles your bags from knowing which house will be vacant for a while.

– Keep your parking ticket from the airport with you, in a safe place. If it is left in the car, that’s all a thief needs to exit the parking garage safely.

– In idle conversation, don’t tell people seemingly innocent details, such as where you keep your parking ticket, how long you will be gone, or if you are traveling alone.

– Call your credit cards before hand and tell them you are traveling. Many now have fraud detection policies that will freeze the card if used out of town, and this can be very inconvenient when in Bangkok.

– Always have a second, or even third, cash source available in case one is stolen or frozen.

– Some thieves have doctored ATMs where it will seemingly not work, and will keep your card. They insert a plastic sleeve, and when you walk away frustrated, they come up and take the card, having seen you enter your PIN number from afar. To avoid this, run your finger along the card slot before you insert your card. The sleeve is rigid and has a couple of tiny prongs the thieves use to get it out of the slot, and you will be able to feel them. Also shield the keyboard with your body when you enter your code.

– Another ATM scam involves a touch-sensitive film, similar to the ones used to protect the keys from damage. This film records your PIN number. Most banks no longer use this film due to this reason.

– Passports and credit cards are easy targets for identity theft. When traveling, either keep these in a hotel safe (not the room safe) or on a money belt hidden under your clothes. In crowded areas, all it takes is a razor blade and quick hands to empty your back pocket, purse, or backpack.

– Keep in mind that 1-800 numbers do NOT work in other countries for the most part, and most credit cards will not accept collect calls. If your wallet is stolen while traveling, make sure to have other contact numbers for them, or get them off their website.

– Some hotels ask for a copy of your driver’s license, credit card, or passport for your stay – some even ask to hold the passport. If this is the case, first verify that this is indeed the policy, with the hotel manager. Then request that a copy be made instead of the original, and ask what is done with the copy later. If that is still not sufficient, request that they be held in the hotel safe. At least then only cleared personnel will have access to it (and make sure YOU have a copy on hand as well)

– Current TSA regulations allow unwitnessed searches of checked luggage. To deter unauthorized people from searching your luggage, lock them with plastic cable ties. This allows the TSA to open the luggage and relock it with their own ties, and you know they’re the only ones that have been in the luggage.

Things to do if your wallet is stolen:

– File a police report immediately, which shows the credit card companies you were diligent.

– Cancel your credit cards immediately. This is why it is so important to have the copies of everything in your wallet. You will need the toll-free numbers on the backs to call the companies. If you are not in the country, toll-free numbers won’t work, so have alternative contact numbers.

– Call your bank and make sure any unauthorized activity is stopped.

– Call the three National Credit Reporting Organizations immediately. This alert means that any company checking your credit knows your information was stolen and they have to contact you by phone to authorize new credit. The numbers are:

— Equifax 1-800-525-6285

— Experian 1-888-397-3742

— Trans Union 1-800-680-7289

– Also contact the Social Security Administration to get a new card and verify that no one has changed your information, such as address. 1-800-269-0271

Things to do periodically:

– Check your credit reports at all three agencies. If anyone is obtaining credit with your information, annual review of these reports should catch them.

– Check your Social Security account periodically. There is a form you can fill out to obtain a summary of your account with the SSA. This can help determine if someone is using your number to receive benefits, or work illegally in this country.

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