identity theft... protect yourself!!!

by Cynthia Fitch, CPA, Matteson, IL

The Financial Photographer

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Have you ever wondered how someone gets your information? Identity theft is a form of stealing another person's identity in which someone pretends to be someone else by assuming that person's identity, typically in order to access resources or obtain credit and other benefits in that person's name. The victim of identity theft (here meaning the person whose identity has been assumed by the identity thief) can suffer adverse consequences if he or she is held accountable for the perpetrator's actions.

NOTE: The term identity theft was coined in 1964 and is actually a misnomer because it is not literally possible to steal an identity as such - more accurate terms would be identity fraud or impersonation or identity cloning, but identity theft has become commonplace.

Identity thieves have ways of stealing your data for personal gain without you even know it. This is called PRETEXTING and it's against the law! Here are a few ways someone could steal your data...
stealing wallets and purses
stealing mail that includes your paystubs, bank & credit card statements, pre-approved credit offers, and tax information
diverting your mail
dumpster diving - yup people rummage through trash
shoulder surfing (no water involved) - that's looking over your shoulder while you are using an ATM
acquiring public records about you (business or personal)
phishing - pretending to be a company you have an account with and redirecting you to a spoof site that looks official
buying your personal information




Now, once the thief has your information they can do just about anything that you can do including the following more popular items...
  1. They can call your credit card issuer pretending to be you
2. They open a new credit card account using your name, date of birth and Social Security Number
3. They establish phone or wireless service in your name
4. they open a utility account under your name
5. Open a bank account and write bad checks
6. They file for bankruptcy under your name
7. They counterfeit checks or use your debit card and drain your account
8. Take out a loan and by a car or house
9. Use your Social Security number or any form of I.D. to take a job and don't pay taxes
10. Create a criminal record under your name

Okay, we have identified the issues, now here is what you can do to minimize your risk...
Adopt a "need to know" approach. Before you reveal any information, ask how it will be used, who it would be shared with and if you have a choice about the use. You have the right to refuse ALWAYS!
Pay attention to billing cycles. Know when you commonly receive your bills and if you don't receive them, contact the creditor  immediately.
Never carry your Social card
Only carry ID and credit cards you regularly use.
Keep items with personal information in a safe place like a safe at home or safety deposit box.
Know who has access to your personal information at work and/or recreational

Credit cards are tricky... as we all know, they are a necessary evil but even with evil, you must be smart on how / when to use it for  your advantage. So, we recommend that you do the following with credit cards:
sign your credit cards when they arrive
Keep a record of your account numbers, expiration dates, phones numbers, addresses, etc... in a safe place.
Memorize your PIN for your card immediately
Never lend your card(s) to anyone.
Watch your credit cards during transactions... try to get it back as quickly as possible.
Void incorrect receipts.
Never sign a blank receipt and draw a line through any blank spaces.
Destroy carbons.
Compare receipts with billing statements
Open your bills
Report questionable charges promptly in writing to card issuer
Notify card companies of a change of address in advance
Cancel unused credit cards
If you are a victim...
  a. call each credit card company
b. follow up with a letter
c. complete a "fraud affidavit" form
d. close out all of the accounts right away
e. use new PINs and passwords
f. monitor mail and bills for evidence

We also recommend putting passwords on just about everything you own, or have in your possession, like your credit cards, bank cards, phone accounts. With these passwords, we highly recommend uncommonly recognized names including numbers, (capitalized) letters, and special characters ($ # % & * !)

-Mother's Maiden name
-your middle name or children's (nicknames) names
-birthday of anyone close to you
-last four of your Social, phone number
-consecutive letters or numbers
-pet's name

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In addition, PROTECT YOUR MAIL...
Install a locked mailbox
Never leave bill payments in the mailbox for pick up
Mail bills and sensitive items at a post office vs. neighborhood drop boxes
Never write account numbers on a postcard
Promptly remove incoming mail from your mailbox
Never sign up for "free" offers (i.e., magazines, clubs, phones, vacations, etc...)
Opt out of UNSOLICITED MAIL. You can do this by visiting, or Direct Marketing Association, 1120 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10036-6700, 212-768-7277
Request a vacation hold when you will be away more than two days (via U.S. Postal Service 800-275-8777)

At a minimum of once a year, order a copy of your Social Security "Earnings & Benefits" statement to make sure no one has used your information to earn income. Call 800-772-1213.

Now for your computer...
Install security software (i.e., firewall protection, anti-virus, anti- spam)
Never respond to 'spam" email
Only shop on secure sites - sites with a padlock displayed on it (or https://)
Report suspicious emails to your local law enforcement agency

And finally, contact fraud department of EACH of the three major credit bureaus:

800-525-6285, or 800-685-1111
PO Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241

PO Box 949, Allen, TX 75013-0949

800-680-7289, or 800-916-8800
PO Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834

The Financial Photographer
Be sure to tell them...
1. you have been a victim of identity theft.
2. ask them to place a "fraud alert" in your file immediately.
3. have them put a "victim's statement" in your file
4. order a copy of your credit report. It's FREE if you are a victim and request it in writing, otherwise, it's $8.50
5. review the reports for additional activity
6. have the bureaus to contact anyone who has requested your credit report in the last 6 months
7. and in 3 months, order new copies to verify corrections, changes, and to make sure the fraudulent activity has stopped.

In conclusion, notify law enforcement immediately if you are a victim of identity theft (911)! Never, let your guard down... protect yourself at all times and a good place to start is following the above recommendations, as well as signing up for LifeLock. For more information on LifeLock, click here.

For more Financial Tips, or to get your Financial Shapshot, feel free to contact me at the information below...


Here is your opportunity to stop hating the media and actually become it!

We are always looking for additional people to submit stories, scores, stats, photos, video, etc...

NOTE: We are proud to announce that for the entire month of December, S.C. Fitch Enterprises, and all of its affiliates including Amateur Sports News Network,, Amateur Sports Gallery and Kennel Sports Talk will be honoring and donating a portion of our online proceeds to  Connection for Abused Women and their Children (CAWC).


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