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IDENTITY THEFT PREVENTION STEPS

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Let’s prevent an Identity Theft today! It’s as simple as 1-2-3 and A to Z!


On your credit reports: You can ask for a victim's statement (that lets creditors know that you’ve had or are having a problem with ID Fraud. You can also ask for a "fraud alert" - that's the one that makes it where they are supposed to call you first. I say “supposed” because there is no law forcing them to and it is not fail-safe. We at VAA have been urging all to ask for a permanent PIN or password to be added to all three credit reports along with a permanent fraud alert also. Therefore it can't be accessed at all by anyone but you and should someone get past that the creditor needs to call and get your permission to open accounts in your name. That seems to be a better alternative

If you happen to live in California – they have passed a law making it mandatory for all three credit reporting agencies to make PIN’s / Passwords available to Californians. We've been advising victims for quite some time now to ask for one no matter where they live. No one has contacted us and told us that the credit reporting agencies turned them down at all. I imagine all states will be passing the same legislation soon. (We sent them all letters and asked them to!) As far as the 800 numbers for the three credit reporting agencies - they asked VAA to only post those numbers on our website since so many of our people contact them. (We are helping 1500 victims per day now). The 800 number is an automated line. We have now put a CREDIT REPORTS button right on the home page to make it even easier. It will transfer you right over to their sites to order credit reports. If you need to speak with them - you might call information in each of their states and get their direct line number.

Once again: VAA suggests that you ask for a PIN or password and also a fraud alert. Note: If you'd like to see what Ms Steimel recommends for How to set your passwords - go to the “ID Theft FAQs” button in the left hand column. When you click on that - then scroll down to the question about passwords.


Once you know about how to set PIN’s or passwords or better yet: you’ve gotten a secure card out of VAARetail’s security items section: Let’s talk “locking down” your credit.

If you want to be as secure as possible credit wise to prevent ID Theft, take these steps:

  1. Get a PIN or password on all three credit reports, at the same time ask for a permanent fraud alert to be added. If you have been a victim of fraud or ID Theft also add a victim’s statement to each report.
  2. Get a PIN or password on every account that is listed in all three credit reports. (Do not buy a triple report from one agency – it will not necessarily include everything that could be in all three companies reports combined.)
  3. Get a PIN or password on you insurance accounts, your bank accounts, investment accounts, and on any other type account you may hold that does not show up on your credit reports 


A-Do not keep ATM Personal Identification Numbers (PIN) or other passwords in your purse or wallet. Never write them down. Memorize them. Also avoid using easily discovered passwords or PIN number/codes, such as your birth date, phone number, or address. Never hang your credit cards from your keychain! If you have a college student – make them aware of identity theft as they move away from home for the first time. Identity Theft is rampant on college campuses. Your children are an easy target. If they lend their car to a friend and their credit card is dangling from their key chain; that can be very tempting to a new friend on a tight budget. The very best thing that we at VAA have found for password storage is located in the SECURITY ITEMS section of VAARETAIL. Please consider supplying these secure-cards for all of your employees or get one for yourself and your other family members. It will hold up to 19 passwords, shows you how to best pick a password and erases itself after 5 attempts if someone is trying to break the code to get in..


B- When you have passwords on all of your accounts including your bank for instance they will require your personal password anytime someone tries to access your account. When you go to the bank to make a deposit or withdrawal, the teller will ask you for the password before your transaction. This will not affect your ability to call the bank for account information. It will not affect your ATM or writing checks to merchants. Do NOT give your personal password or Personal Identification Number for any of your accounts or credit reports to anyone calling you telling you that they are from the bank or from any of your other accounts companies. If you did not initiate the call – give out NO info. But in no circumstance ever give anyone your passwords so that you know that your accounts are still secure.


C-Opt out of pre-approved credit and insurance offers as allowed under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (15 U.S.C. section 1681b (e). By calling 1-888-5OPT-OUT (1-888-567-8688) consumers can prevent the 4 national bureaus from releasing their name on the prescreened lists used to create pre-approved offers. The consumer has the option to opt out for 2 years or for life. We at VAA recommend for life and being done with it. This information is included in the ID THEFT LINKS section of the website also.


D-You may want to have your name and address deleted from marketer’s lists by writing to: Direct Marketing Association’s Mail Preference Service (PO Box 9008, Farmingdale, NY 11735) and also Telephone Preference Service (PO Box 9015, Farmingdale, NY 11735). This information is included in the ID THEFT LINKS section of the website also.


E-Get you social security number off of everything unless it is something that is used for reporting to the IRS. Put your social security card in a bank lock box. Do not have it in your home – in home break-ins – a lot of times all the perpetrator is looking for is your important papers, account info and social security information. Do not write social security numbers on checks and where possible avoid using them for school or employee identification. If your workplace displays your social security number on your time card for all to see, request that they change that procedure for the protection of not just you, but for all of their employees. If you ever need to contact the Social Security Administration, come to the VAA web site and that contact info is easily found in the VAA ID THEFT LINKS section of the website.


F-When using a credit card – Never put additional information on the credit card slip. If a store is collecting a customer’s name and address for mailing purposes you have no reason to agree to list you name, address, or phone on the same slip that identifies your credit info. You have no reason to supply that at all. You may refuse. If you’d like to receive that stores mailings – stop at the customer service department and ask to be included. Never put additional information on a credit card slip and don’t allow an employee to either.


G-Do not have your social security number or driver’s license number printed on your checks. Do not even put your first name. Use only your first initial and last name. If someone takes your check book they will not know if you sign your checks with just your initials or your first name – but you bank will know how you sing your checks. Put you work phone number on your checks instead of you home phone. Use your PO Box for the address – never your home address. If you don’t have a PO Box – use your work address. Destroy all checks immediately after you close a checking account. Destroy or keep in a secure place any courtesy checks that your bank or credit card company sends to you.


H-Use a cross-cut shredder, even for your junk mail. What is trash to you is treasure to an ID Thefter. Those pre-approved credit card mailings that everyone gets has enough info that a perpetrator just needs to change the address and send it in. Don’t, when at the post office picking up your PO Box mail, stand there and sort through and throw out all of your junk mail in an open garbage can. Until you get a cross-cut shredder either cut up or destroy all pre-approved credit offers that you don’t intend to accept before putting them in your trash or recycle bin. This should be done also with credit card statements, credit card receipts, bank statements, and other documents that have personal identifying information on them. You should also be sure not to throw away credit card, debit card and ATM receipts and the like in any public trash. Take them home to your cross-cut shredder. (Shredders will be available in the security section of VAARETAIL.)


I-Keep tax records, canceled checks, paid bills, etc. in a secure place, or destroy them before throwing them away. In a home break-in, that may be all that the perpetrator is looking for – don’t make it easy for him.


J-Check with your bank, financial institution, stock brokerage company, medical doctor, insurance company, utility company, Phone Company, Cell Phone Company and all of your accounts: IF they do not shred all of their client information garbage move your account to another company. Also ask what measures they have taken to lock down their client data-base. Do not let them ask you for your social security number to identify you. Demand that they change their system or take your account elsewhere.


K-If interviewing - do not give out your social security number. An employer should not collect that information about your unless you are hired and the company will need it for IRS reporting. Check with your place of employment and ask what measures they have taken to secure their employees from having their personnel files compromised to a perpetrator of ID Theft and also what has been done to protect the client records from an insider theft. Have them check out our web site for the EMPLOYER’S CHECKLIST if they’d like VAA’s thoughts on the matter.


L-Guard personal information: Do not carry your whole credit profile in your purse or wallet. If one credit card is all you are going to use, only carry one. If you are not doing anything with your credit today – don’t carry any. Be aware of you surroundings. Watch that person who’s staring over your shoulder as you pay your bill or that’s eyeing your purse. Minimize the number of Identification documents that you ever carry anymore. Do limit the number of credit cards you even have, and cancel any inactive accounts by notifying the company in writing and sending by certified mail. (File your copy of those letters with the certified receipt and signed return mail cards attached.) You’ll need it later if someone reopens that account!


M- Never leave your purse or wallet in your car. If you don’t need it - don’t take it with you. Stick your driver license and 1 credit card (or a $10 bill) in your shoe – that can’t be picked as easily as a pocket. Then a perpetrator won’t see a big purse with potential hanging from your shoulder or a bulky wallet in a convenient pocket. Always carry what you need. Never carry any additional information that will just help an identity thefter know where you live, work, and shop when they get hold of that wallet or purse. It goes without saying: don’t carry your passport unless you are going out of the country.


N-Make sure your home mailbox is secure for incoming mail. Locking Mailboxes are available in VAARETAIL’s Security Items Section. Don’t not put mail in an unlocked neighborhood mailbox with a red flag up. That’s a notice to an identity thefter that you’ve put mail out for them. Take outgoing mail directly to the Post Office and drop it off inside if it includes bills, letters, applications or anything containing personal information. Do NOT write account numbers on checks or on the outside of envelopes you are mailing. Do not have your bank send your new checks to your home address. For better security, tell the bank to have them delivered to the banks own address and that you will pick them up when they come in. If you have a problem with your mail, contact the postal inspector of the US Post Office. That contact information is located at the ID THEFT LINKS section of the VAA web site.


O-Moving? (Attention College students: Take note of this!! You move a lot and Identity theft is prevalent in college areas. If you are moving out of the country you are also more susceptible to Identity Theft in the States while you are out of the country.) If you are moving: go to the post office and fill out a change of address card. Have your mail forwarded from the old address so that the post office knows where you are, and where to send your mail. Call and “Opt out” (see item –C- above) before you move if you haven’t yet – this will keep your pre-approved credit from coming to the new renter in your name.


P-Keep a list or make a photo copy of the contents of your wallet (front and back), plus any other credit accounts and bank accounts, brokerage accounts, passport and insurance info (for your car, home, medical, dental, etc) in a secure place, such as a safe, lock box or locked file cabinet. Include account numbers, expiration dates, and telephone numbers of the customer service and fraud departments. Use these numbers immediately if your credit cards or checks are ever lost or stolen to not only go down the list and make calls to report the problem but to also cancel all credit immediately and have them reissue in another number and pass code on every account that you have. If that list is easily accessible at a break-in you have done your perpetrator a great favor! Put it in a safe place.


Q-Register all of your credit cards with a reputable credit card protection agency and then place that agency’s stickers on your credit cards. Some banks offer this feature for free. If your cards are stolen, you call one number. After a purse or wallet is stolen, it is difficult for a victim to remember all of the various credit cards he/she was carrying. It’s certainly easier to call one number! We at VAA prefer Item –P- above over this suggestion. This line item would directly depend on your comfort level with having just one organization know all of your credit info.


R-Remember your phone manners. Used to be that meant: be nice. Now it means: Never give personal information (credit card number, bank account, driver’s license number, social security number, birth date, mother’s maiden name) out over the phone unless you have initiated the call and can positively verify that the call is legitimate. Don’t give any info at all to anyone who has called you. It is definitely not alright to give out any info at all to someone who just contacted you cold. No matter who they say they are – that doesn’t mean that’s really who that person actually is on the other end of the line. Rule of thumb: if someone contacts you and needs info – tell them you will drive to the location and speak with them personally and hang up. Don’t verify that you do or don’t have an account with the agency being discussed. Be sure you know the reputation of a company before you do business with them.


S-Don’t forget computer etiquette while you’re at it. Never give credit information unless you are on a site that you are both familiar with and you know the site to be a secure site. No exceptions. More than one business has been compromised by hackers and credit card numbers stolen. If you are not sure about the company: Contact the Better Business Bureau before giving your business to one you are not familiar with. Only a small percentage (less than 1%) of Identity Thefts reported had anything to do with online shopping. Just do be careful that you are on a secure site. (It will say something about a “secure certificate” on the page – usually at the bottom).
 
T-If you have a home computer, keep a backup in a secure place (not sitting next to your computer). If you keep financial information on your home computer follow VAA’s PC SECURITY CHECKLIST to protect info on your computer from perpetrators accessing either through a break-in or through computer hacking.
 
U-Carefully review all of your utility, credit card, and other subscription bills to make sure the charges are yours. If a credit card company shows that they sent out courtesy checks on your account and you did not request that – contact them immediately. Make a list of every bill that you should be receiving and check that list each month to be sure that you did in fact receive everything. If you did not – contact any company that you are missing a statement for and make sure that the address was not changed to someone else’s on the account of the missing statement or statements.


V-Pull credit reports for the entire family at least once a year and be sure they are still clean of any tampering and accurate. At the VAA website click on the CREDIT REPORTS button in the left hand row of buttons and order your first ones now. Have all three credit reporting agencies put a permanent fraud alert on every family member’s credit report: and also a PIN or password if you haven’t done so yet. A fraud alert will make it where you can’t walk into a retail establishment any longer and get “instant credit” in your name –but neither can anyone else.

With a fraud alert on your credit reports at just three agencies, if anyone tries to use your name to establish credit the company extending credit in your name must call you first and get your OK. The fraud alert however is not fail-safe. We now recommend that you also ask for a PIN or password to be added to all three agencies report. This also makes it where no one can get instant credit. It totally locks down your credit report from anyone accessing it except you.

If you need to get a home loan or the like – you will have to offer to get the credit reports for the company (do not give them your password info). This step will stop pre-approved credit offers because those companies will not be able to access your account to see if you qualify. This one step alone would take a huge bite out of identity theft if everyone would just do it. How far can a perpetrator get if your permission has to be gotten in advance and no one can access your credit reports to authorize opening new accounts in your name? Do it Now! An Identity Thefter (when in access to your info) knows that he must act immediately to run up bills and move on. If your fraud alert and PIN/password is already in place, hopefully He’ll move on to his next victim the first time he’s turned down for credit in you name. If you find anything that you’d like to question or notice any problem when you receive your credit reports – feel free to CONTACT VAA by phone or e-mail so that a VAA Advocate can assist you with it.


W-Only list your name and number, without your address in the local and/or national telephone book(s). It is well worth the small fee most telephone companies charge for the service.


X-If something looks suspicious – don’t ignore it – question it! Perpetrators work right next to us and we just don’t pay any attention! Watch when you hand someone your credit card. They should only swipe it once. Don’t let anyone take your credit card away from your line of vision when doing business with you. Beaware. Be cautious. Be credit safe.


Y-Make sure that your whole family is using the same system. It does you no good to take all of these precautions if your teen gets online and orders some music with your credit card at a web site that is not secure or your 10 year old answers the phone and verifies information that he knows to be true for the caller.


Z-Do not buy information to prevent identity theft. We are here to help you, use our checklists, contact our advocates, and keep us posted if you have a problem. Lean on us. If we do not have needed info readily available for you we will research it for you and get back with you on it. We do not like to see anyone being further victimized during a financial crime, or when trying to prevent one by having to “pay” for help. We’ve already had someone show us one fellow’s information. He was actually selling this exact list for a profit! If you feel the need to send money somewhere please support our national cause so that we can help as many victims and persons trying to prevent having a problem as possible. If you’d like an idea of what we do to help a victim: check out this link: http://victimsassistanceofamerica.org/eduinfo/idtheft_faq.cfm and scroll down to this title: I hope that you will reconsider your harsh language regarding services to help I.D. Theft victims. "Don't pay for help, it is further victimization . . ."

It’s your family name! It was given to you at birth. Don’t let someone so easily snatch it away! Let us help you to keep it clean of criminal records and bad credit at the hands of these perpetrators for when it passes on to the next generation. Give your heirs something that they can be proud of! No one else has the responsibility to protect your good name – it was given to you. Take care of it – and let VAA help if you need us.

Victim’s Assistance of America, Inc. A national 501-c-3 nonprofit: assisting victims of ID Theft and aggressively addressing Identity Theft issues for the nation.

 

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