Financial Focus/Take Steps To Prevent Identity Theft

If you lose your cell phone, it’s an inconvenience. If you lose your keys, it’s a problem. But if you lose your identity, it can be a disaster.

And, over the past five years, one in eight adults has suffered some type of identity loss, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Victims of identity theft may have their credit cards used illegally, or they may have credit information stolen and used to make costly purchases. In 2002, identity theft cost U.S. businesses and consumers about $50 billion.

Identity thieves act in a variety of ways, from stealing your mail (especially those “pre-approved” credit card offers) to calling a credit bureau and, under the pretense of being a landlord or prospective employer, asking for your credit information. And, of course, computer-smart thieves can get your private information from the Internet.

How can you protect yourself from identity theft? Here are a few tips:

• Don’t share your Social Security number - Unless it’s truly necessary, as when you’re filing official papers, don’t give out your Social Security number. Smart crooks can use your number in a variety of ways - and none of them are good for you.

• Shred those documents - If you’re getting rid of old tax returns, investment statements and bank documents, use a shredder. And, as long as you’ve got the shredder out, use it on pre-approved credit card offers. At the very least, when you receive those pre-approved envelopes, rip them up before throwing them away.

• Get your credit report annually - To request a copy of your credit report, you can call the three main credit bureaus: Equifax (1-800-685-1111), Experian (1-888-397-3742) and Trans Union (1-800-888-4213). Check your report closely for “surprises” or unaccounted activity.

• Update accounts to reflect changes in your life - You’ll want to revise the official ownership designations of your financial accounts - loans, credit cards, etc. - to accommodate changes in your life, such as divorce. Otherwise, you might find that, on a credit report, your ex-spouse’s problems are now also yours.

• Opt out of credit card offers - To get fewer pre-approved credit card offers, call 1-888-5-OPT-OUT and follow the prompts. Also, when you receive a phone call from a credit card company, or any other type of solicitor, you can request to be placed on the company’s “do not call” list.

Be Alert

Identity theft has been going on ever since someone learned how to forge someone else’s signature. Unfortunately, the problem has been exacerbated by our modern age, with its mass mailings, Internet access and impersonal transactions.

Still, even with these realities, you shouldn’t live in fear of being attacked by identity thieves. First of all, the chances are still good that it will never happen to you. Second, if you follow the suggestions described above, you can further improve your odds. And finally, even if you are victimized, you can almost always straighten matters out, though it will take time and effort.

So, be alert, do what you can, and live your life. Your real identity is who you are as a person - and no one can take that away from you.

This article was submitted by the financial representatives of Edward Jones in Hagerstown: Greg Garner, AAMS, 301-733-9465; Dave Walker, 301-766-7300; Joan Bowers, 240-420-8514; John R. Pullaro, 301-824-7726; and Todd Streett, 717-762-0911.