Thwarting Identity Thieves

Perhaps the most effective thing you can do to prevent identity theft is to safeguard your Social Security number. Most consumer experts advise you not to carry your Social Security card in your wallet and never to give out the number unless you are absolutely sure of the organization you are giving it to and how it will be used. But what do you do if, despite your best efforts, a crook manages to steal your identity?

Perhaps the most effective thing you can do to prevent identity theft is to safeguard your Social Security number. Most consumer experts advise you not to carry your Social Security card in your wallet and never to give out the number unless you are absolutely sure of the organization you are giving it to and how it will be used. But what do you do if, despite your best efforts, a crook manages to steal your identity?

To minimize losses, photocopy everything in your wallet and keep the copy in a safe place. This not only gives you a record of what’s in the wallet if it’s ever stolen, but it also provides you with key telephone numbers to call and report the theft. You should immediately notify your credit card issuers, but you should also notify the three major credit reporting agencies—Equifax, Experian, and Trans-Union—and tell them to place a fraud alert in your file. Once you do, a lender must verify the identity of anyone applying for credit in your name for 90 days.

Filing a police report probably won’t do a lot to catch the bad guys, but it will at least show your creditors that you were diligent. You should also file an identity theft complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/). This is an important step, since it provides you with documentation that can block fraudulent information from appearing on your credit report and prevent creditors from continuing to collect debts that were the result of the identity theft. It can also extend the time that a fraud alert remains in your credit report file from 90 days to 7 years. The extended fraud alert requires that lenders contact you or meet with you in person before issuing credit in your name.