An identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal â€œidentifyingâ€ information (such as your name, social security number, or credit card number) without your permission to commit fraud or other crimes. This is the definition used by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Depending on the nature and seriousness of the fraud or crime, identity thefts can cause financial problems for you, affect your credit history, reputation, and may even impact your employment possibility if you were looking for a new job.
Given the above, it is important that you safeguard your personal information. This would include your social security number, passport number, credit card information, driverâ€™s license number, bank account information, PIN numbers, computer passwords, address and phone number(s).
If you are contacted by phone, mail or e-mail by a person, who identifies himself/herself as an employee or a representative of a business or agency that you know or have an account with, do not provide any personal information until you are able to contact the institution directly (using a telephone number or website that you know) to verify authenticity.
But no matter how careful you are, in todayâ€™s environment, you can still become an identity theft victim. A store clerk or a waiter at a restaurant can misappropriate your personal or credit card information. Businesses (such as your bank, a store, supermarket, or hotel) that you patronize can also have their customer databases compromised.
Steps you can take to protect yourself:
1) Sign up with one of the identity theft protection agencies. We believe this may be one of the more timely and effective ways for notification of an identity theft. There are many companies entering this field, two organizations that have sizable client bases in this area include Identity Guard* and Life Lock*, the charge for the full protection program is between $10 to $15 per month per person depending on the agency that you choose. If you enroll and pay the annual premium, there is usually a discount. For these agencies, the focus is on identity thefts occurring within the U.S.
Identity Guard provides you with a full credit report when you sign up and sends you quarterly updates on your credit report thereafter. Life Lock on the other hand will provide full credit reports to you each year. Both agencies will provide you with â€œalertsâ€ and â€œnoticesâ€ each time a new account is opened in your name and if there are data changes involving your name and/or social security number (such as an address change). With the shields and blocks put up on your behalf by either agency, part of the benefit is that you will receive less â€œjunkâ€ mail and e-mails.
Each agency has $1,000,000 of identity theft insurance protection for each client if an identity theft occurs. Identity Guard will pay â€œout of pocketâ€ expenses incurred by you during the credit restoration process plus legal costs in the U.S. which Identity Guard has consented to. Life Lock will pay attorney costs when legal assistance is needed to restore your credit. Both companies will assign an identity theft specialist to advise and work with you. The enrollment time is estimated to be between 15 to 20 minutes if you enroll by phone:
- Identity Guard 1-800-452-2541
- Life Lock 1-877-509-1575
On-line enrollments (via www.identityguard.com or www.lifelock.com) usually take 10-15 minutes.
Both companies offer a similar service. Each company has its special nuances and niche services, so you may want to compare and decide if one or the other is more suitable for you. If you decide to enroll, please ask each companyâ€™s representative to outline its price and key services. The services and price quoted above may change over time since each company periodically updates and upgrades its operations. Your own credit card company may offer a fraud protection service that you can enroll in.
* Our firm has no affiliation with either of these organizations.
2) If you decide not to enroll with an identity theft protection agency, at a minimum, you should check your credit each year with each of the 3 major credit reporting bureaus. This can be accomplished by going to www.annualcreditreport. com or you can call 1-877-322-8228. Credit reports for the following 3 credit reporting bureaus should be available to you as requested through the above website or telephone number.
If you need information from a particular credit reporting bureau, each agencyâ€™s telephone number and website are listed below for your reference:
Equifax: 1-800-525-6285 or www.equifax.com
Experian: 1-888-397-3742 or www.experian.com
Trans Union: 1-800-680-7289 or www.transunion.com
You are entitled to a free credit report every year from each of these credit bureaus.
If you are an American Express Centurion Black Card holder, you will receive a free annual credit report covering your credit history with the above 3 credit bureaus.
When there is a data change associated with your name in the public records, you will likely also get a notice in the mail from your Centurion Black Card Program.
3) Check with your insurance broker/agent to see if your current homeownerâ€™s insurance provides â€œidentity theftâ€ insurance coverage. Some companies offer this coverage as part of your insurance policy while others will require you to pay a small premium to add this coverage. If an identity theft occurs, the insurance company will offer advice on restoring your credit. Depending on the insurance policy, you may receive reimbursement for eligible out-of-pocket expenses incurred while restoring your credit up to a $25,000 to $30,000 limit. Some will provide coverage up to $100,000 for an additional premium.
The above safeguards may have overlapping services and benefits, you will need to decide what would work best for you.
Much has been written about this subject. Comprehensive advice and reference materials for identity theft are available from The Federal Trade Commission (FTC). We can provide you with excerpts, or if you prefer, you can go to www.ftc.gov/idtheft on the Internet. If you want to call the FTC, the telephone number is 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338).
Additional reference source:
The Identity Theft Resources Center, a non-profit consumer advocacy group, offers toll free â€œno costâ€ victim assistance to those who fall prey to identity theft. Its telephone number is 1-888-400-5530. The website is www.identitytheftresourcecenter.com. There are many helpful articles on identity theft on this website. Each article has a different emphasis such as travel, computer security and protection, and so forth.