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Article Archive >> Entertainment

Protect Yourself from Identity Theft

Protect Yourself from Identity Theft

(ARA)-Imagine going to the grocery store and writing a check to pay for your purchases, only to have it turned down for lack of funds--when you know that your most recent paycheck was just deposited. Or applying for a credit card and being turned down due to a bad credit history -- when you've never paid a bill late.
And that's just the small stuff. If you're the victim of identity theft, you could be turned down for a car loan or even a mortgage--and that might be your first clue that someone is using your identity. It can take years to get your name cleared and your credit standing restored.
In today's world, we are required to give out our personal information all the time--for credit cards, loans, insurance claims, job applications, online purchases and more. We're constantly spreading around personal and financial information, and sometimes those details get into the wrong hands. Think it couldn't happen to you? Think again! Michelle Brown walked into an office one afternoon to fill out a simple rental form and handed it over to the receptionist--who stole her identity and wreaked havoc on her life in unthinkable ways.
Michelle's story and the devastating effect of this type of crime was dramatized in the Lifetime Television movie "Identity Theft: The Michelle Brown Story." But lest you think this kind of thing only happens on television, you should know that the Federal Trade Commission received approximately 161,000 complaints about identity theft in 2002, and the problem is growing.
However, there are steps that you can take to protect yourself against identity theft. Many are simple common sense: don't give out personal information over the phone, Internet or mail unless you initiated the contact; don't carry your Social Security number with you and don't give it out unless absolutely necessary; memorize your passwords for your credit card, bank and phone accounts--don't write them down.
Other precautions include choosing a password that isn't easy to guess. For example, don't use your mother's maiden name, your birthdate or the last four digits of your Social Security number. And while it may seem like overkill, it is best to tear or shred any mail, receipts or trash that contains personal information (you can buy a shredder for under $20).
Finally, check your credit report at least once a year to check for inconsistencies. You can get your credit report from any of the three major credit bureaus. You may also want to explore monitoring services that alert you to changes in your credit status and credit report.
If you suspect your identity has been stolen, you need to take immediate action. Here are some tips from Lifetime:
* Contact all three major credit bureaus: (Equifax, (800) 525-6285; Experian, (888) 397-3742; TransUnion, (800) 680-7289)
* Close accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently
* Contact all credit card, bank account and investment companies you use, even if you're not sure whether your account with them has been affected
* File a police report and submit it to creditors
* File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov)
* Contact the Social Security Administration Fraud Hotline at (800) 269-0271 if your Social Security number was stolen
Identity theft affects one American every six minutes. Some simple precautions on your part can help ensure that you're not one of them.
For more information on Lifetime Television for Women, visit www.lifetimetv.com.

Courtesy of ARA Content

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