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Fraud, Scams & Identity Theft

Identity Theft Introduction

There are two kinds of identity theft. The first type is credit card or debit card theft. In the second type, the thief takes your credit identity and racks up charges that can ruin your good credit by getting credit cards, buying cars, renting apartments, or committing crimes in your name.

As a result, you may be denied student loans, mortgages, or even jobs. You may even have your utilities cut off or driver’s license suspended. To make matters worse, you may have to also suffer harassment by collection agencies trying to collect on a debt that you do not owe.

Protecting Yourself

The sad news is that some credit-granting institutions and credit bureaus do not have great systems to stop identity theft. Therefore, you cannot prevent identity theft from happening to you. You must look out for yourself. You can take steps to lower the chance of it happening to you.

Beware of “free credit report” advertisements. The first and most important thing that you can do is to order your credit report once a year so you are not caught by surprise. Some companies and individuals will try to give you a free credit report. They do it to get other information from you or sell you other services. Be cautious with these groups. The government gives you a free credit report, with no strings attached, if you request it.

You have the right to get a free copy of your credit report once a year. You can get a free credit report more than once a year if you applied for and were denied credit. There is only one legitimate source for free and secure credit reports. It is annualcreditreport.com, a Website sponsored by the Federal Trade Commission. If you don’t have access to the Internet, call 1-877-322-8228. Expert suggestions are listed below.

  • do not carry unneeded credit cards, your Social Security card, your birth certificate, or other personal documents in your purse or wallet
  • keep track of all your ATM, credit card, debit card, and other receipts; store them in a safe place or destroy them before putting them in the trash
  • cancel all your unused credit card accounts
  • cancel any credit or debit cards you lose
  • protect your Social security number; do not give it to any person or company unless you know and trust them, and you started communication with them
  • do not have your driver’s license number the same as your Social Security number; you may ask for a new license number with a random one assigned to you
  • do not give financial information to anyone claiming to represent a contest or sweepstakes promotion
  • call 1-888-567-8688 (“opt-out line”) for credit reporting bureaus to have your name removed from the mailing list for credit card applications; you may choose to have your name removed for two years or permanently
  • never reply to emails that ask for personal information
  • remember that safe websites require shoppers to log in before placing or viewing an order; you usually have to provide a username and a password
  • never reveal a password to anyone; when selecting a password, do not use commonly known information, and do not reuse the same password for different sites
  • turn on privacy settings on social networking sites, such as Facebook and Myspace; be careful with what you post—birthdates and pet names can be used to steal your identity