Identity theft has become more prevalent in today's society. If it hasn't happened to you, you may not even be entirely sure what "identity theft" means. We're not talking about something out of some spy novel. We're talking about financial fraud: criminals being issued credit cards in other people's names and then running the cards up past their limits-to the eventual dismay of the people whose identities they assumed. Sometimes purchases are made using checks ordered in someone else's name.
Identity thieves steal their victims' names and Social Security numbers in a variety of ways. They get such information by swiping bill payments, financial statements, credit cards, and preapproved credit card applications from mailboxes, or even from the Internet. Sometimes they find it on items that have been thrown in the trash.
How to Protect Yourself
There's no foolproof way to protect yourself from financial fraud of this sort. One thing you can do is to conduct frequent reviews of your credit record. You should obtain a credit report once or twice a year. Credit reports are available from Equifax (1-800-378-2732 or), TransUnion (1-800-916-8800), and Experian (1-800-422-4879). If you find anything strange in your report, tell the credit bureau and bring it to the attention of the creditor. If you live in Maryland, you can obtain a free credit report annually, but even if you have to pay, it's usually under $10 - a small price to pay for peace of mind.
Those suspicious entries may turn out to be nothing more than mistakes. (Credit bureaus do make mistakes.) If you find mistakes, get them cleared up. You don't want those mistakes to prevent you from getting credit when you need it or from getting it at a good rate.
Other ways to protect yourself
The web site www.feelsafeagain.com provides a wealth of tips on personal safety. Some of their recommendations on protecting against identity theft:
If identity theft ever appears to be a problem for you, please contact us. For example, if you experience a delay in receiving statements or checks from us, call us to make sure they didn't wind up somewhere they shouldn't have. You may save yourself some headaches.