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Identity Theft: It's an Epidemic!

Identity theft involves acquiring important pieces of someoneís personal identification information, such as name, address, date of birth, Social Security number, birth certificate, or motherís maiden name in order to impersonate them.

This information enables the identity thief to commit numerous forms of fraud which include taking over the victimís financial accounts, opening new bank accounts, purchasing automobiles, applying and securing loans, credit cards and social security benefits, renting apartments, and establishing services with utility and telephone companies.

To reduce the likelihood of becoming a victim of identity theft, follow Mr. Modemís Top 25 recommendations:

1. Remove mail from your mailbox as soon after delivery as possible.

2. Deposit outgoing mail in post office collection boxes or at your local post office. Do not leave outgoing mail in unsecured mail receptacles.

3. Never provide personal information via telephone, such as your Social Security number, date of birth, motherís maiden name, credit card number, or bank PIN code, unless you initiated the phone call to your financial institution or other reliable entity. Guard your personal information jealously! Release it only when absolutely necessary.

4. Shred pre-approved credit applications, credit card receipts, bills, and other financial information before discarding them in the trash.

5. Remove extra credit cards and duplicate identification information from your wallet or purse. Better still: Cancel credit cards you do not use regularly.

6. Order your personal credit report from the three following credit bureaus once each year to check for fraudulent activity or other discrepancies:

P.O. Box 105873
Atlanta, GA 30348
Phone: 800-997-2493

Experian Information Solutions
(Formerly TRW)
P.O. Box 949
Allen, TX 75013
Phone: 888-397-3742

P.O. Box 390
Springfield, PA 19064
Phone: 800-680-7289

If your personal information is stolen, request of the above agencies that a "Fraud Alert" be placed on your name and Social Security number. This alert means that any company checking your credit is placed on notice that your information was stolen and they must contact you to authorize new credit.

Mr. Modem Bonus Tidbit: Beginning July 1, 2001, the four major U.S. credit bureaus, (Equifax, Experian, TransUnion, and Novus) acquired the authority to release credit information, mailing addresses, and telephone numbers to other organizations. Unless you elect to "opt out," your name has likely been pre-screened by these four agencies and can be released.

If you would like to remove your name from this release of information, call 1-888-567-8688. It only takes a couple of minutes. You will need to provide your Social Security number, which is always a concern, but in this instance, this is legitimate. Click HERE for additional information.

7. Never leave receipts at bank ATM machines, bank counters, trash receptacles or gasoline pumps. Keep track of all your paperwork. When you no longer need it, shred it.

Enjoying this article? Then why not subscribe to Mr. Modem's Weekly Newsletter ( today! Computer tips, tricks, virus alerts, hoax information, plus prompt, personal responses to your computer questions!

8. Memorize your Social Security number and your passwords. Donít write them on any cards, sticky notes, and for heavenís sake, donít keep a list of them in your wallet or purse.

9. Sign all new credit cards as soon as you receive them.

10. Save all credit card receipts and match them (reconcile) against your monthly statement.

11. Pay attention to when your bank and other financial statements arrive each month. Contact the sender if a statement is not received in a timely manner.

12. Notify your credit card companies and financial institutions before you change your address or telephone number.

13. Never loan your credit cards to others. DuhÖ

14. The next time you order checks, instead of having your full first and last names imprinted, just use your first and middle initial with your last name. If someone steals your checkbook, they won't know if you sign checks with just your initials or your first name, but your bank will know how you sign your checks.

15. Never, ever, EVER have your Social Security number printed on your checks.

16. Donít write your credit card number, account number or similar information on a post card or on the outside of an envelope. Even if thereís a place for your account number on a bill-paying envelope, just leave it blank.

17. When writing checks to pay credit card accounts, do not write your complete account number on the "For" or memo line. Instead, just include the last four digits. The credit card company will know the rest of the number, but the many individuals handling your check through its processing won't have access to it.

18. If you apply for a new credit card and it doesnít arrive in a timely manner, call the bank or credit card company involved.

19. Report any lost or stolen credit cards immediately. Your total liability is only $50 per card, but many credit card companies wonít make you pay if you report a stolen or lost card promptly.

20. Know when your credit cards expire. Contact the credit card issuer if replacement cards are not received prior to the expiration dates.

21. Place the contents of your wallet on a photocopy machine and copy both sides of each license, credit card, identification card, etc. In this way, you will know what you had in your wallet, plus all of your account numbers and phone numbers to call and cancel if your wallet is stolen. Keep the copies in a safe place.

22. Be suspicious of solicitors. Many mail and telephone solicitations are designed to obtain your personal information. So the next time somebody calls and says you won a fabulous trip, and all they need is your credit card number or other identification to secure your grand prize, tell them youíre not interested. Avoid telephone solicitors by letting your telephone answering machine screen calls for you. Donít pick up the phone unless you recognize the voice of the person calling you.

23. Identity theft is an epidemic today, so protect yourself at all times. Remember the old adage, ďIf it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.Ē

24. Using a credit card online is the safest way to shop on the Internet -- if you follow a few common-sense rules. For more information about using your credit card online and what you can do to protect yourself, review the article entitled "Digital Plastic" in this library.

25. File a police report immediately in the jurisdiction where your identification was stolen. This will prove to credit providers, should it become necessary, that you were diligent, and provides the initial step in an investigation, if there is one.

Okay, I lied; it's actually 26 recommendations:

26. Report identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-428-4338 or visit the FTC Identity Theft Web site.

Since I've lost all credibility at this point, let's make it 27:

27. Another excellent resource is ProBuyToLet's article titled ďLandlords and Tenants at Increased Risk of Identity Theft.Ē ProBuyToLet is one of the UK's leading sources of news and information for landlords and rental property investors

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