Keep identity thieves from being grinches

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Few events in life cause as much grief and frustration as the theft of an individual’s identity. Once personal information has been stolen or compromised, some spend months working to restore their credit rating and minimize their losses. 

Like any other criminal activity, the ways a person can take advantage of your personal information are limited only by the perpetrator’s imagination.

The best defense against identity theft is to develop a broad spectrum of defenses. The point is to never make yourself an easy mark for the criminal bent on doing you wrong.

The first and most important thing you can do is take every measure to protect your personal information and keep it from falling into the wrong hands. 

A $35 cross-cut shredder is much less expensive than the hours and resources you must spend if your identity is compromised due to negligence. Pay attention to the things you receive in the mail and shred anything with birth dates, Social Security numbers and credit card numbers. Also, destroy any unwanted credit card offers and convenience checks you receive through the mail. Purge your wallet or purse if you carry excess identification or credit cards, as these will present a serious issue if they become lost or stolen.

Another important factor is, in about half of identity theft cases, the criminal is someone known to the victim—acquaintances, co-workers, friends and even family members. Often, the victim is reluctant to submit a police report or press charges against a friend or family member. In this case, the best offense is a good defense.

Do not leave any paperwork with your name and Social Security number in plain sight. When looking at myPay or other Web sites with personal information, whether at work or at home, be sure not to walk away without locking your computer. When friends or family members come to visit you at your home, ensure your personal information is out of sight.

You must also protect yourself when on the telephone or computer. Do not give personal information on the phone or Internet to someone who contacts you. Give your Social Security number out only when absolutely necessary. Under most circumstances, you should not give it out at all.

On the cyberspace front, be aware of two modern means of identity theft: pharming and phishing. Pharming uses viruses to redirect you to the criminal’s Web site. Phishing is a scam wherein an identity thief tries to trick you into giving away personal or account information that you would not share otherwise.

Pay close attention to what you type into your Web browser. Always use secure socket layer technology to shop online. Maintain current Internet security through firewalls and virus protection, and never give out private information in response to e-mails.

Forward e-mails that appear to be manipulative in nature to the Federal Trade Commission at uce@ftc.gov; by doing so, you enable the FTC to raise awareness of current scam attempts.

Another good practice is to request a free copy of your credit report each year from the three credit bureaus. You can reach Equifax at (800) 685-1111, Experian at (888) 397-3742 and TransUnion at (800) 888-4213.
The Federal Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act allows you one free personal credit report every twelve months from each of the three main credit bureaus. Many victims of identity theft found out their personal information had been compromised through review of their credit reports.

You should also know that if you are a military member away from your permanent duty station, you may place an active-duty alert on your credit reports to minimize your risk while deployed. According to the FTC Web site, the alert requires creditors verify your identity before granting credit in your name. To find out more, visit ftc.gov.

If after all of these precautions you are still a victim, there are measures you may take according to the FTC.
First, call each of the three credit reporting bureaus and have a fraud alert placed on your account. Next, ask each of the bureaus for a copy of your credit report. Next, close all accounts that you know or suspect have been manipulated or opened under false pretense. Third, file a police report with your local police office or with police where the identity theft took place. Finally, file a complaint with the FTC at www.consumer.gov/idtheft or by calling (877) 438-4338. 

By taking some precautions and actively managing personal information, you can avoid most instances of identity theft and quickly rectify issues that may occur.