By John H. Denick, Esq.
Identity theft is a growing problem. Fortunately, there are some simple steps that you can take to protect yourself and your credit. Please feel free to share this information with your family, friends, co-workers, and employees.
When ordering checks, only have your first initial (instead of the full name) and last name printed on them. This way, someone who takes your checks will not know your first name and thus will have trouble forging your signature. Secondly, have your work phone number printed on your checks instead of your home number, and use either a P.O. Box address or your work address (where practical) instead of your home address to minimize the amount of personal information a thief can obtain from your checks. Avoid placing other personal information such as your driver’s license number on your checks. Finally, NEVER have your Social Security number printed on checks; this is possibly the single most dangerous piece of information for a thief to have.
Make photocopies of every item in your wallet, both front and back, so that you will have all your account numbers, important phone numbers, and other pertinent information on hand if your wallet is stolen. This will also serve as an inventory so that you will know exactly what information the thief now has. Keep this information in a safe but handy place in the event you should need it.
When paying your credit card bill by check, only write the last four digits of your account number in the memo line, not the full account number as credit card companies request. This way, those processing your check will not have access to the full number. The last four digits are the only ones necessary for the credit card company to identify you. Further, be sure to keep a copy of your card numbers and a list of the toll free numbers necessary to cancel your credit cards should they be stolen. If they are stolen, the following simple steps can greatly reduce the damage done to your credit. Take them IMMEDIATELY for your own protection.
1) File a police report in the jurisdiction where your wallet was stolen. This serves as notice to credit providers of your diligence and is a first step toward an investigation.
2) Call the three national credit reporting organizations and the Social Security Administration Fraud Line to place a fraud alert on your name and Social Security number. This way, any company that checks your credit will know that your information was stolen and will contact you by phone to authorize new credit.
The numbers are:
Experian (formerly TRW): 1-888-397-3742
Trans Union: 1-800-680-7289
Social Security Administration Fraud
Calling these numbers should be the first step you take if your wallet is stolen.
MAIL, RECEIPTS, AND OTHER DOCUMENTS
If possible, invest in a shredder. Shred solicitations for credit cards and mortgage applications so that if a thief goes through your trash, the application form cannot be retrieved. Other documents containing identifying information, such as credit card statements, receipts, certain medical and business statements, and tax return information should also be shredded prior to disposal. Following these simple steps will greatly minimize the damage a thief can do by stealing your checks, credit cards or other identifying information from other documents.