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Lynn Little: Don't let them steal your identity

May 07, 2010|By LYNN LITTLE / Special to The Herald-Mail

Did you know that identity theft is the fastest growing white-collar crime in the United States?

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) estimates that as many as 9 million Americans have their identities stolen each year.

In fact, you or someone you know may have experienced some form of identity theft.

Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal identifying information, such as your name, Social Security number or credit card number, without your permission, to commit fraud or other crimes.

Identity theft takes many forms. Thieves may have rummaged through your trash, found a bank statement and misused your checking account.

Maybe they rented an apartment using your name. Maybe someone got a credit card using your identity and credit history, and bought expensive stereo equipment.

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You may not have discovered this until months later when your loan application was rejected or when you noticed charges on your credit card statement that you didn't make.

Identity theft is serious. People whose identities have been stolen can spend hundreds of dollars and many days cleaning up the mess thieves have made of their good name and credit record. The potential for damage, loss, and stress is considerable.

Consumers victimized by identity theft may lose out on job opportunities, or be denied loans for education, housing, or cars because of negative information on their credit reports. They may even be arrested for crimes they did not commit.

To minimize your risk:

o Protect your Social Security number, credit card and debit card numbers, PINs, passwords and other personal info.

o Deal only with legitimate, reputable businesses.

o Get key details in writing and thoroughly check them out before agreeing to anything.

o Beware of "deals" requiring money up-front.

o Be extra careful when providing personal information over the telephone or internet.

o Safeguard your incoming and outgoing mail.

o Stop bandits from recycling your trash into cash; use a shredder.

o Limit the confidential information in your wallet in case it gets lost or stolen.

o Review your credit card bills and bank statements as soon as they arrive.

o Monitor your credit report for warning signs of fraud at http://www.annualcreditreport.com or call 877-322-8228 or write to Annual Credit Report Request Service, P. O. Box 105283, Atlanta, GA 30348-5283

If you are a victim:

o Cancel your affected accounts.

o File a police report.

o Call the credit bureaus and place a fraud alert on your name and social security number.

o Contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for advice on further actions.

Visit Federal Trade Commission website http://www.ftc.gov and click on consumer information. The publication Deter, Detect, Defend: Avoid ID Theft provides tips for consumers on how to deter, detect and defend against identity theft.

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

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