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The Faces of Identity Theft

By Philip Tirone

About 80 percent of people have errors on their credit reports, and many of these are a result of identity theft. Identity theft can be a devastating event that gets in the way of learning how to build credit. Once a thief acquires your personal information s/he can quickly suck your account dry or steal your identity, resulting in not only a tremendous financial loss but a considerable outlay of time to put your affairs back in order.

Now, more than ever, you have to be careful about leaving any scrap of personal information available to scheming identity thieves. Take safeguards to avoid leaving yourself open to identity theft, and be aware of the many ways identity theft might occur.

Dumpster diving. One of the more common forms of identity theft is when thieves find pieces of personal information is to rummage through a victim’s rubbish. For example, the credit card offers that you discard without a thought might be used by a dumpster diver to set up credit accounts in your name. Bank account statements that have your credit card number or bank account might even be used to purchase items online or over the phone. To prevent this, purchase a shredder and use it on anything with your personal information.

Open-access mailboxes. If you have a mailbox that is not secured or is a community mailbox, beware of identity thieves snatching your mail and setting up bogus accounts in your name. If you’re going to be away on vacation, protect yourself from identity theft by asking the post office to put your mail on hold so no one can grab it.

Pickpockets and purse-snatchers. Make sure you never leave your purse or bag unattended. Having access to your credit card and driver’s license is an identity thief’s dream. For that reason, never, ever carry your Social Security card in your wallet.

Phishers and Phreakers. Be especially wary of phishers and phreakers, the newest form of identity theft. Phreakers are people who search for personal information by eavesdropping on telephone calls.  Phishers send cleverly disguised emails that ask you to provide personal account information. Using anti-virus software and a firewall is a good way to cut down on malignant attempts by criminals to access your information. Do not share your password with anybody and change it often to decrease the possibility someone may hack into your computer. Also watch out for spyware, which is often installed on your computer without your consent. It can monitor your computer for personal information, such as credit card numbers.

Keep a close lid on your Social Security number. This is your most sensitive personal information, and when an identity thief gets your Social Security number, s/he can easily steal your identity. Do not give out your number unless you started the call and can confirm the identity of the person/company you are calling.

Always keep track of your credit report. Regularly checking your credit report is the best weapon you have against identity theft. Request copies of your credit report at least four times a year. You can get a free annual credit report once a year, but remember, never buy your credit score from www.annualcreditreport.com. If you believe you are a victim of identity theft, you can start by placing a freeze on your credit report. Contact the three credit-scoring bureaus (here, here, and here) to request this credit freeze. Then make a police report, and submit this, along with all other evidence, to the credit-scoring bureaus.

If the credit-bureaus refuse to correct the errors on your credit report, fight back by hiring an attorney.

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