Stolen Lives

Identity theft is the country's fastest growing crime. Here's how to protect your most valuable asset -- you!

of the experts strongly recommend buying a shredder, preferably cross-cut style, which cuts documents and credit cards, across the length and width. Put out your garbage on the morning of pickup instead of the night before. These actions decrease the probability of becoming a victim of identity theft through Dumpster diving.

If you do become a victim of identity theft place a fraud alert with one of the three major credit agencies. The agency you contact will notify the other two. Then request a copy of your credit report from each agency and dispute anything you think is fraudulent. Be prepared to fill out an affidavit to dispute unauthorized bank or credit card accounts. You can print out an affidavit at The affidavit should not be sent to the FTC or any other government agency; it is only for dispute resolution.

Next, report the incident to the police and insist on a police report. Keep a copy for your own records. Sixty-one percent of the identity theft victims surveyed last year by the FTC did not inform the police. Scott contacted the police and was able to find out exactly what happened.

Make sure you notify your creditors if your credit cards were stolen, as well as your bank if your checks were stolen. Ask for new credit cards, and close any existing bank accounts and open new ones. If your debit card gets stolen, get a new one. And remember to use a completely different password for additional security. Be careful of establishing new credit with a different Social Security number, however. Having two may lead to confusion when trying to repair your credit report. Log on to www.identityt for more tips.

Keep in mind that it may take months or years to fully repair your credit. Consequently, it is important to keep a log of everyone you speak to, says Cherry.

Although it took some time, Scott repaired her credit. A few years after the incident, she took out a loan to buy her first car with a co-signer. She’s still making plans to be a homeowner.

There is no specific timeline on how long it may take to repair you credit, says Terry. “But if you file the law enforcement report and follow all the steps, it can go very smoothly.”

Protect Yourself with Fraud Alerts
With a fraud alert, you will be informed anytime someone tries to obtain credit, insurance, or employment under your name.

Each agency has a fraud alert system. TransUnion’s ID Fraud-Watch system ( provides up to $25,000 of identity theft insurance. You also receive a credit report four times per year for about $44 per year ($10.95 per quarter). TransUnion also has a Fraud Victim Assistance Department. “There is no charge for assisting victims,” says Terry. “We add an alert to the credit card, which entails putting a red flag on your file, and notify you if there are potential changes to your account.”

Similarly, Equifax has an identity theft monitoring program called Equifax Credit Watch ( Consumers can

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