Modern-Day Robbery Steals Your Identity

Stewart H. Welch III

Physician's Money Digest, November15 2003, Volume 10, Issue 21

You may have heard about people who lostmoney after having their identity stolen.But the crime goes much deeper. Trying torestore good credit can be a very stressfuland lengthy process. Many identity thieves haveextensive networks and share credit card numbers. Asyou might guess, your best protection against identitytheft is to take certain precautions before it happens.Here are some key steps you can take to make sure thefinancial and emotional damage is minimized if youdo become a target.

• Photocopy Documents. Photocopy both sides ofyour credit cards, drivers license, Social Security card,and any identity documents that you carry in yourpurse or wallet. Store these records in a safe place. Ifyour purse or wallet is stolen, contact the credit cardcompanies immediately. Having your account numbersand the credit card companies' phone numbershandy will save you a lot of time and aggravation.

• Place a Fraud Alert. As soon as you know youhave a problem, contact the fraud alert departmentsat Equifax (800-525-6285), Experian (888-397-3742), and Trans Union (800-680-7289). You shouldalso contact the Social Security Administration fraudline (800-269-0271). Alerting the credit card companiesis not enough. Savvy thieves will often use yourinformation to apply for new credit cards, buy cellphones, establish checking accounts, and open retailstore charge accounts.

Most companies opening new accounts will checkout your credit through 1 of the 3 main credit bureaus(ie, Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union). By placing afraud alert with them, they're required to contact youby phone before extending credit. This 1 strategy willstop many thieves in their tracks. Be very protective ofyour drivers license. If lost or stolen, report it immediatelyto your state department of motor vehicles.

• Be check smart. Next time you order checks,imprint your first and middle initials with your lastname instead of spelling out your first name. A thiefwill not know how you sign your name, but yourbank will. Don't have your Social Security numberimprinted on your checks. Finally, never write yourfull credit card number on your check when payingthe bill. Including the last 4 digits will suffice for yourcredit card company.

• Maintain diligence. Make certain you receiveyour monthly credit card statements each month ontime. Often, thieves will intercept a statement andchange the address to delay the time it takes for you torealize a theft has occurred. Also, safeguard or disposeof bank statements, account statements, tax returns,and unused checks. For storage, consider a locked filingcabinet. For disposal, consider a shredding service.

• Protect your privacy. Be wary of giving any personalinformation to unsolicited third parties. Using theInternet or phone, thieves will contact you pretendingto need updated information on an existing account,such as your Internet service provider. They will thenuse this information to steal your identity. There's neverany reason to provide your Social Security numberwhen you're opening a charge account. When you'reasked for additional information, provide only what isnecessary to open the account.

Remember, becoming a target is easy. For moreinformation about protecting yourself from identitytheft, visit www.consumer.gov/idtheft.

Stewart H. Welch III, founder of the WelchGroup, has been rated 1 of the nation's top financialadvisors by Money and Worth. He welcomesquestions or comments from readers at 800-709-7100 or www.welchgroup.com. Reprinted withpermission from the Birmingham Post Herald.This article was taken in part from J. K. Lasser'sNew Rules for Estate and Tax Planning (John Wiley & Sons; 2001),coauthored by Harold Apolinsky, Esq, and Mr. Welch.