Combating Identity Theft

Ways to prevent a costly, widespread nuisance

you’ve landed at a phishing site,” Opperman says.

Opperman also tells consumers to use “good, strong passwords” that go beyond the typical pet, children, and spouse names. “Use a password that is no less than eight characters, and that includes a combination of upper and lower case characters and numbers,” says Opperman. “Mix it up, and change them often to ensure that the bad guys can’t use harvest attacks (schemes that find criminals randomly attempting to decipher passwords based on a list of pet and children names, for example) to steal your identity.”

Finally, Siciliano says, one of the best ways to protect your identity online is to do business only with reputable companies that you know and trust.

The Federal Trade Commission offers three steps in fighting and preventing identity theft:

DETER

Shred financial documents and paperwork that has personal information before you toss them.

Protect your Social Security number. Don’t carry your Social Security card in your wallet or write down your Social Security number. Give it out only if necessary or ask to use another way to identify yourself.

Never click on links sent in unsolicited e-mails. Use firewalls, anti-spyware, and anti-virus software to protect your computer at home as well as at your business, and be sure to keep them up-to-date. Visit OnGuardOnline.gov for more information.
Keep your personal information in a secure place at home, especially if you have roommates, employ outside help, or are having work done by outsiders in your home.

DETECT
Monitor your financial accounts and billing statements. Be aware of signs that require immediate attention such as when bills arrive unexpectedly, credit denial notices arrive for no apparent reason, or you receive calls or letters about purchases that you did not make.

Stay up to date on the information in your credit report. The law requires the major nationwide consumer reporting companies—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—give you one free copy of your credit report each year if you request it.

DEFEND

Place a “Fraud Alert” on your credit reports, and review the reports carefully. The alert tells creditors to follow certain procedures before they open new accounts in your name or make changes to your existing accounts. The three main consumer reporting companies have toll-free numbers for placing an initial 90-day fraud alert.
Equifax: 1-800-525-6285
Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742)
TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289

Call the security or fraud departments of each company where an account was opened or changed without your permission. Follow up in writing, with copies of supporting documents. You can use the ID Theft Affidavit to support your written statement. Ask for verification and keep organized and detailed documentation in processing any type of complaint or notification.

File a police report to help you with creditors who may want proof of the crime. Also, report the theft to the Federal Trade Commission online, by phone (1-877-ID-THEFT), or by mail (Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, Washington, DC 20580).

For more information on identity theft, see the Federal Trade Commission’s guide for businesses.

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