Thursday, March 24, 2005

Good Advice re: Identity Theft

The following is from an eMail I received today, but which appears to have originated in late 2002. Indented comments in italic are my additions, which include suggested revisions from the Urban Legends page referring to this eMail.

A corporate attorney sent the following out to the employees in his company.
  1. The next time you order checks have only your initials (instead of first name) and last name put on them. If someone takes your checkbook, they will not know if you sign your checks with just your initials or your first name, but your bank will know how you sign your checks.
    Per Snopes: The vague hope the issuing bank will spot an improperly signed check is right up there with wishing bread was 39ยข a loaf. We've seen checks we'd forgotten to sign go through our accounts. If a bank fails to question blank signature lines, it's not up to the task of scrutinizing each signature to see if it matches what it remembers of how that account holder signs his name.
  2. Do not sign the back of your credit cards. Instead, put "PHOTO ID REQUIRED".
    Sign with your initials as well; otherwise there is nothing to stop the thief who has your wallet from simply using your own photo ID.
  3. When you are writing checks to pay on your credit card accounts, DO NOT put the complete account number on the "For" line. Instead, just put the last four numbers. The credit card company knows the rest of the number, and anyone who might be handling your check as it passes through all the check processing channels won't have access to it.
    Per Snopes: Rather than including only the last four digits of a credit card number in the memo field of the check, a better course of action is to leave that line blank. The preprinted slip the credit card holder returns along with his payment is all the credit card issuer needs to ensure payment is allocated against the correct account.
  4. Put your work phone # on your checks instead of your home phone.
    Per Snopes: No phone number needs to be included. If a merchant requires a phone number, the information can always written on the face of the check at the time of the transaction.
    If you have a PO Box use that instead of your home address. If you do not have a PO Box, use your work address. Never have your SS# printed on your checks. (DUH!) You can add it if it is necessary. But if you have it printed, anyone can get it.
  5. Place the contents of your wallet on a photocopy machine. Do both sides of each license, credit card, etc. You will know what you had in your wallet and all of the account numbers and phone numbers to call and cancel. Keep the photocopy in a safe place. I also carry a photocopy of my passport when I travel either here or abroad. We've all heard horror stories about fraud that's committed on us in stealing a name, address, Social Security number, credit cards.
    Keep any copies of such documentation in a safe or safe deposit box. Don't leave them in a desk drawer or your wife's purse. (Of course, if you kept them in your wallet, they're already gone.)
Unfortunately, I, an attorney, have first-hand knowledge because my wallet was stolen last month. Within a week, the thief (or thieves) had ordered an expensive monthly cell phone package, applied for a VISA credit card, got a credit line approved to buy a Gateway computer, received a PIN number from DMV to change my driving record information online, and more.

Here's some critical information to limit the damage in case this happens to you or someone you know:
  1. We have been told we should cancel our credit cards immediately. But the key is having the toll free numbers and your card numbers handy so you know whom to call. Keep those where you can find them.
    Keep them in a safe or a safety deposit box. See above.
  2. File a police report immediately in the jurisdiction where your credit cards, etc., were stolen. This proves to credit providers you were diligent, and this is a first step toward an investigation (if there ever is one).
    But here's what is perhaps most important of all: (I never even thought to do this.)
  3. Call the 3 national credit reporting organizations and the Social Security Administration immediately to place a fraud alert on your name and Social Security number. I had never heard of doing that until advised by a bank that called to tell me an application for credit was made over the Internet in my name. Posting this alert means any company that checks your credit knows your information was stolen, and they have to contact you by phone to authorize new credit.
By the time I was advised to do this, almost two weeks after the theft, all the damage had been done. There are records of all the credit checks initiated by the thieves' purchases, none of which I knew about before placing the alert. Since then, no additional damage has been done, and the thieves threw my wallet away. (This weekend someone turned it in.) It seems to have stopped them dead in their tracks.

Here are the numbers you will need to contact if your wallet or any other credit or identity information has been stolen:
  1. Equifax: 1-800-525-6285
  2. Experian (formerly TRW): 1-888-397-3742
  3. Trans Union: 1-800-680-7289
  4. Social Security Administration (fraud line): 1-800-269-0271
    Per Snopes: The phone numbers given in the message above for the top three credit bureaus are correct.

We pass along jokes on the Internet; we pass along just about everything. But this information could really help someone that you care about. Pass it along!
Snopes adds: Our advice: Take some good advice.

Additional suggestions from the National Check Fraud Center:
  • Contact the post office if you suspect that an identity thief has filed a change of address form for your name, and is diverting your mail to another address.
  • Alert all utility companies that someone has been using your identity fraudulently and inform the appropriate authorities that someone may be abusing your [Social Security number] and/or driver's license number.
  • Take action to have any criminal or civil judgments against you that may have resulted from your identity thief's actions, permanently removed.
  • Keep a log of all your contacts and make copies of all documents. You may also wish to contact a privacy or consumer advocacy group.


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