Protect yourself from identity theft: Deter, detect, defend
|5/6/2007 – In the world of identity theft, April 27 was a big day for the Federal Trade Commission and President George Bush. It was the day that the agency released a 120-page report on the identity theft epidemic, and ways to stop it or, at the least, curb it.
“Combating Identity Theft: A Strategic Plan,” was compiled by a task force appointed by the president, a group chaired by U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in partnership with FTC chairman Deborah Platt Majoras and comprising representatives from other agencies such as the Federal Reserve System, Homeland Security, Social Security, Veterans Affairs and the U.S. Postal Service.
Identity theft, which was made a federal crime eight years ago, affects millions of people each year, and steals billions of dollars from its victims, which include the economy and businesses as well as individuals.
The plan is available at www.idtheft.gov/reports/StrategicPlan.pdf on the Web.
Basically, it is an outline of how the federal government, in a coordinated effort with law enforcement, consumer advocacy groups, business and industry, will work to fight identity theft through prevention, awareness, enforcement, training and victim assistance.
Deter. Detect. Defend. Through these three strategies, the plan not only suggests ways for the government to help consumers prevent identity theft, but also ways for consumers to protect themselves from becoming victims.
Since identity thieves need Social Security numbers to complete their scams, an important strategy that the task force recommended is to decrease unnecessary use of Social Security numbers in the public sector. How that will be implemented has yet to play out. But, in the meantime, since self-defense is a first defense, here are some strategies that the FTC recommends consumers to adapt immediately:
• Deter thieves by safeguarding your personal identification information.
• Detect suspicious activity by routinely monitoring your financial accounts and billing statements.
• Defend against ID theft as soon as you suspect a problem.
Here are ways to do that:
• Shred financial documents before you dispose of them, so ID thieves can’t “dumpster dive” through your trash cans to retrieve information they need to steal your identity.
• Never carry your Social Security card with you. Also, don’t allow the number to be printed on paper checks. If someone asks for it, ask them to use a different identifier for you, such as a driver’s license number.
• Don’t give out personal information on the phone, through the mail, or over the Internet unless you know who you are dealing with – and that means who you’re dealing with personally, not someone who contacts you and claims to be from your banking institution or some other place where you do business.
• Never click on links sent in unsolicited emails; instead, go to a Web address you know by writing in the address in your browser yourself. Use firewalls, anti-spyware and anti-virus software to protect your home computer; keep them up-to-date. Visit OnGuardOnline.gov for more information.
• Don’t use an obvious password like your birth date, your mother’s maiden name, or the last four digits of your Social Security number.
• Keep your personal information in a secure place at home, especially if you have roommates, employ outside help, or are having work done in your house.
Detect suspicious activity on your identity by routinely monitoring your financial accounts and billing statements. Be alert to signs that require immediate attention, such as bills that do not arrive as expected; unexpected credit cards or account statements; denials of credit for no apparent reason and calls or letters about purchases you did not make.
Defend against ID theft as soon as you suspect it. Place a “Fraud Alert” on your credit reports and review the reports carefully. Close your accounts. File a police report and report the theft or any suspicious activity, including those unsolicited letters and calls you get, to the FTC by going online to www.ftc.gov/idtheft, or by calling toll-free to (877) 438-4338.
TIP OF THE WEEK: For more information from the FTC on protecting yourself from identity theft, go to the FTC Web site at www.ftc.gov.