Prevention goes a long way to guard against identity theft

June 03, 2005|by Lynn Little

Summer vacation time is a good time to remember to protect yourself from identity theft.

If your wallet or purse is stolen, thieves might use the information in your wallet/purse to take on your identity. They could buy goods, get benefits and services, open new charge accounts, take money from your bank accounts, apply for a job in your name and more.

You can take many steps to protect your identity.

Never carry these papers or cards with you, unless needed: Social Security card, Medicare card, health insurance card, credit cards, birth certificate, visa or passport. Make photo copies of these papers or cards. When not in use, put these items and copies in two separate safe places. If you need any of these items, carry them in a safe place.

Remove your name from mailing and calling lists: Write these two places with the Direct Marketing Association (D.M.A.) once a year:


· Mail Preference Service

c/o Direct Marketing Association

P. O. Box 9008

Farmingdale, NY 11735-9008

· Telephone Preference Service

c/o Direct Marketing Association

P. O. Box 9014

Farmingdale, NY 11735-9014

Contact one of the three major credit bureaus to request they do not sell your name, address and phone number:

· Equifax at 1-800-685-1111

· Experian at 1-888-397-3742

· Trans Union at 1-800-888-4213

Directly contact nonprofit agencies, magazines and catalog companies by mail or by their toll-free phone number. You can request that your name, address and phone number be removed from their lists and request that they do not sell this data. You also can call the national Do Not Call Registry at 1-888-382-1222 or go online to

Do not buy products or services from those who sell by phone or door-to-door unless you deal with a well-known business.

Do not answer phone or door-to-door surveys.

Do not sign up for contests or free gifts.

If you have credit cards, do the following:

· Reduce the number of cards in your name.

· Lower the credit limits to what you can use.

· Cut up unused and old cards. You must also call or write the bank or store in order to cancel or close the account.

· Do not give your card number, date it expires, passwords or codes over the phone. Only do this if you are the one who placed the call or you are making a purchase with a well-known business.

Do not give your bank account number(s) over the phone or in person, unless you are doing business directly with the bank.

Check your Social Security earnings and credit report yearly to make sure the data about you is correct.

Check monthly for odd activity on phone bills, credit and bank statements, and other financial reports.

Use travelers' checks instead of carrying credit cards or large amounts of cash.

Shred or tear up all unwanted mail that carry personal data such as account numbers and offers for credit cards.

Remove address labels before recycling mail.

Do not give out your home or work address and phone number.

Do not tell too many people the dates you will not be home.

Avoid going to stores, banks or currency exchanges alone at night and do not go to such businesses in unsafe places.

For more information on protecting your identity and what to do if you are a victim of identity theft, call the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at 1-202-382-4357 or go to on the Web. You also can request information from Maryland Cooperative Extension - Washington County by sending a self-addressed, stamped (37) business-size envelope to: MCE - Washington County, 7303 Sharpsburg Pike, Boonsboro, MD 21713. Mark the envelope "identity."

Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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