Iden­tity theft and pro­tec­tion

The Covington News - - Business -

Iden­tity theft is big busi­ness. In fact, each year bil­lions of dol­lars — that’s bil­lions, with a “ b” — are lost to iden­tity theft, ac­cord­ing to the Fed­eral Trade Com­mis­sion. This cu­mu­la­tive fig­ure may not mean that much to you, but if you are vic­tim­ized, it can be up­set­ting and ex­pen­sive. That’s why you’ll want to de­fend your­self against iden­tity theft — and the best time to take ac­tion is be­fore it hap­pens to you.

What can you do to pro­tect your­self? Here are a few sug­ges­tions:

• Se­cure your So­cial Se­cu­rity num­ber. Iden­tity thieves ea­gerly seek So­cial Se­cu­rity num­bers — so don’t give out yours to any­one who asks for it. In fact, as a gen­eral rule, be re­luc­tant to give it out at all. Al­ways ask whomever you’re deal­ing with if he or she will ac­cept an­other form of iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, or at the very least will take just the last four dig­its of your num­ber. And never carry your So­cial Se­cu­rity card with you.

• Shred credit card of­fers and bank state­ments. If you’re not go­ing to ap­ply for the credit cards of­fered to you, shred the of­fers. Iden­tity thieves have been known to ri­fle through garbage and take ad­van­tage of credit card of­fers. At the same time, shred your bank and bro­ker­age state­ments — and any other state­ments con­tain­ing per­sonal or fi­nan­cial in­for­ma­tion.

• Study your credit card and check­ing ac­count state­ments. Ques­tion any credit card charge or check­ing ac­count ac­tiv­ity you don’t rec­og­nize as your own.

• Don’t give out your credit card num­ber un­less you’re ini­ti­at­ing a pur­chase. Most of us do at least some shop­ping on­line. As long as you’re deal­ing with a rep­utable mer­chant who uses a se­cure site — i. e., one that has “ https” in the Web ad­dress — you should be rea­son­ably con­fi­dent that your credit card in­for­ma­tion will be pro­tected. Never give out your credit card num­ber to peo­ple or busi­nesses that, un­so­licited, try to sell you some­thing over the phone or In­ter­net.

• Opt out of credit card of­fers and other mail­ings. You can elim­i­nate many of those “ preap­proved” credit card of­fers by call­ing 1 ( 888) 567- 8688 and fol­low­ing the prompts.

You can also greatly re­duce the amount of ad­ver­tis­ing, cat­a­logs and other mail­ings you re­ceive by go­ing on the Di­rect Mar­ket­ing As­so­ci­a­tion’s Web site ( www. dma­choice. org) and fol­low­ing the “ Re­move My Name From Those Lists” link.

Even af­ter tak­ing th­ese steps, you could still run into iden­tity theft. That’s why you need to be alert for cer­tain signs, such as the ar­rival of un­ex­pected credit cards or ac­count state­ments, de­nials of credit for no ap­par­ent rea­son, or calls or let­ters re­gard­ing pur­chases you didn’t make.

If you ex­pe­ri­ence any of th­ese, you may want to place a “ fraud alert” on your credit re­ports and re­view them care­fully. To place a fraud alert, con­tact one of the three na­tion­wide con­sumer re­port­ing com­pa­nies: Equifax – 1 ( 800) 525- 6285; Ex­pe­rian – 1 ( 888) 397- 3742; or Tran­sUnion – 1 ( 800) 680- 7289.

It’s un­for­tu­nate that iden­tity theft is part of our mod­ern world. But by tak­ing the proper pre­cau­tions and stay­ing alert, you can help avoid be­com­ing a statis­tic.

Stu­art Hamil­ton

In­vest­ment Rep­re­sen­ta­tive

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