Monday, January 30, 2012

Be On Guard for Identity Theft

     Nearly 10 million people in the US are victims of identity theft each year.  In North Carolina, about 300,000 people are victimized annually.  North Carolina ranks 24th in the nation in terms of identitytheft, and five North Carolina cities rank in the top 50 metropolitan areas for identity theft.  In addition, the identities of more than three million North Carolinians have been put at great risk of identity theft by the more than 800 security breaches reported since December 2005.
 Identity theft occurs when someone assumes your personal information like your bank account or SSN to pretend to be you, opening a new account or credit card in your name.
      The Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act, enacted by Congress in 1998, makes identity theft a federal crime.
Some tips for avoiding identity theft:
  • At home keep personal information in a safe place.  Shred any papers with confidential information before you throw them out -- even the junk mail.  To opt out of receiving offers of credit in the mail, call 1-888-5-OPTOUT.
  • Never throw away ATM receipts, credit statements, credit cards, or bank statements in a usable form.
  • When ordering new checks, pick them up from the bank instead of having them mailed to your home mailbox.
  • Unless you initiate the contact with a business (whether over the phone, through the mail or on Internet), don’t give out any confidential information such as credit card number, SSN, PIN, DOB, or even your mother’s maiden name.
  • Reconcile your bank account monthly, and notify your bank of discrepancies and unexplained activity immediately.
  • Carry as few cards with identity or personal information as possible.
  • Review of copy of your credit report at least once a year.
      The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires each of the nationwide reporting companies – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – to provide you with a free copy of your credit report, at your request, once every 12 months.  To order your free annual report from one or all the national consumer reporting companies, visit , call toll-free 1-877-322-8228 or complete the Annual Credit Report Request Form and mail it to the Annual Credit Report Request Service.  Do not contact the three reporting companies individually.
The FTC recommends consumers who order their free annual credit reports online to correctly spell the website or link to it from the FTC website to avoid being misdirected to other websites that offer supposedly free reports but only with the purchase of other products.
       You can also consider a security or credit freeze.  Placing such a freeze on your credit reports can block an identity thief from opening a new account or getting credit in your name.  North Carolina resident can set up and manage security freezes online, free of charge.  You can also establish and manage a security freeze by mail or phone.  These methods are always free for identity theft victims who have filed a police report, their spouses, and consumers over the age of 62.  Before requesting a security freeze by mail or phone, check with the credit bureau to see if they charge a fee.  Putting a security freeze on your credit report does not affect your right to obtain the annual free credit report from each of the 3 reporting bureaus.
       Credit bureaus can usually comply with your online request for a security freeze within 24 hours ofreceiving it.  More information about this is located on the North Carolina DOJ website.  ( ) 
 About SSNs:
      Your employer and financial institutions need your SSN for wage and tax reporting purposes.  Other businesses may ask for your SSN to do a credit check if you are applying for a loan, renting an apartment, or signing up for utilities.  Sometimes, however, they simply want your SSN for general record keeping.  If someone asks for your SSN, ask:
  • Why do you need my SSN?
  • How will my SSN be used?
  • How do you protect my SSN from being stolen?
  • What will happen if I don’t give you my SSN?
      If you don’t provide your SSN, some businesses may not provide you with the service or benefit you want.  Getting satisfactory answers to these questions will help you decide whether you want to share your SSN with the business.  The decision to share is yours.
      Remember, when it comes to identity theft, you may not be able to control whether you become a victim – but you can make a New Year’s Resolution to take certain steps to minimize your risk.
Posted by Nadine Bray, Women's Issues Chair

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