Protect Your Identity

More than ever, thieves are out to steal your credit profile. Using a variety of methods, from telemarketing scams to duplication of credit card statements and receipts, criminals can get hold of this information and impersonate you, spending as much as possible, as fast as possible. Correcting the damage and removing the fraud can take months.

“Your Social Security number coupled with your date of birth are the crown jewels of credit card fraud. Without them you don’t exist in this society,” warns J. Jerome Bullock, managing director of Decision Strategies International, an investigative and business intelligence firm in Washington D.C. Bullock, along with the Better Business Bureau (BBB), suggest taking these precautions to protect your I.D. and creditworthiness:
1. Question the need to reveal personal information, especially your Social Security number. “When seeking general information, there really is no need for someone to have it,” he cautions.
2. Never throw in the trash anything with your credit card, Social Security, bank card or checking account numbers, or date of birth. With just these few pieces and the address where they were found, someone else could build themselves a credit profile using your identity. “You should shred these documents and separate the pieces. Checks are really vulnerable,” cautions Bullock. He suggests that you cut off the coded numbers at the bottom of the check in the left corner, then shred or burn them.
3. Be careful when providing personal information, especially relating to credit, on a Web site. Make sure that the site is secured. “Consumers really have to be cybersavvy; don’t put your Social Security or credit card numbers on any open e-mail site,” says Bullock.
4. Never give identification information to someone you don’t know over the phone unless you’ve initiated the call. “Be leery. Be conditioned to say no, and get a telephone number so you can call back and check yourself,” advises Bullock.
5. Get a copy of your credit report at least twice a year. Cancel all unused credit card accounts.
6. Keep a list of all your credit card and account numbers in a safe place.
7. If you become a victim, report it immediately to the police (get a case file number), your credit card issuers, your bank and the fraud units of credit reporting agencies. Cancel everything and get new numbers.

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