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Your Money: Protecting your identity

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I am often asked, “How can someone steal my identity?”

It’s really quite simple.They do it by taking your name, Social Security number, credit card number or some other piece of your personal information for their own use. In short, identity theft occurs when someone appropriates your personal information without your knowledge to commit fraud or theft. White-collar crimes, such as identity theft, are the fastest growing crimes in the United States. Georgia ranked second in the country in identity theft complaints last year.

Skilled identity thieves use a variety of methods – low-tech and high-tech – to gain access to your data. Some methods include:

• Stealing your wallet or purse containing your identification and credit and bank cards.

• Stealing your mail, including your bank and credit card statements, pre-approved credit offers and tax information.

• Fraudulently obtaining your credit report by posing as a landlord or employer.

• Buying your personal information from “inside” sources. An identity thief might pay a store, restaurant, or hotel employee for information about you.

• Taking information about you from the Internet.

While you probably can’t prevent identity theft entirely, the Better Business Bureau, along with the Federal Trade Commission, advise the following precautions to minimize your risks:

• Before revealing any personal information, find out how it will be used and whether it will be shared.

• Contact your creditors immediately if your bill doesn’t show up on time.

• Minimize the number of credit cards you carry; only carry the ones you need.

• Guard your mail from theft. Deposit outgoing mail in post office collection boxes or at your local post office, not in your roadside mailbox.

• Keep items with personal information in a safe place. To thwart an identity thief who migth pick through your trash to capture your personal information, you should shred your charge receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, bank checks and statements that you are discarding, expired charge cards and credit offers you get in the mail.

• Don’t carry your Social Security card; leave it in a secure place. Give out your Social Security number only when absolutely necessary. Ask to use other forms of identification when possible.

• Don’t list your Social Security number on your driver’s license or checks.

• Order a copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit-reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian and Trans Union – every year. Make sure it is accurate and includes only those activities that you have authorized.

If you become a victim, it is extremely important that you act immediately to stop the thief’s further use of your identity. Report the crime to the police. Call your bank and credit card issuers. Contact the fraud unit of the three credit reporting companies. Request that a “fraud alert” be placed in your file, as well as a victim’s statement asking that creditors call you before opening any new accounts or changing your existing accounts.

Those that have had their identity stolen can testify that it is very burdensome to the victim in order to resolve the damage done by the perpetrators. That is why this is such a serious crime and why it is so important to do everything possible to prevent this from happening to you or your loved one. If you would like more information on Identity Theft, please contact the Better Business Bureau of Central Georgia at www.bbb.org or (800) 763-4222.


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