Preventing Identity Theft Tips

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How can active duty military personnel prevent identity theft while deployed?

ID Theft Prevention: Active Duty Alerts Available for Military Personnel

A despicable – but very real – method of identity theft is to target military personnel who are on active duty. The inability to respond to fraudulent activity on bank and credit card accounts make them vulnerable to misuse of their personal information that could go undetected for a long period of time.

Amendments to the Fair Credit Reporting Act allow members of the military who are away from their usual duty stations to place an "active duty alert" in their credit report to help prevent identity theft. The alert requires creditors to verify your identity before granting credit in your name.

According to the FTC, when you place an active duty alert, your name will also be removed from the credit reporting companies' marketing list for prescreened credit card offers. Exemption from the list expires after two years unless you specially ask to go back on the list before then.

To either place or remove an active duty alert, call one of the three consumer reporting companies listed below. Call only one. Each company is required to notify the other two when a request is received. The company will require you to provide appropriate proof of your identity, which may include your Social Security number, your name, address, and other personal information.

Equifax: 1-800-525-6285;

Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742);

TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289;

Are state legislators doing anything to help prevent identity theft?

Individual States Step Up to Help Prevent Identity Theft

Federal laws have made great strides in helping to protect individuals from identity theft and stiffen punishment and penalties for offenders. Now, individual states are stepping up to impose laws of their own designed to prevent identity theft.

For example, in Jan. 2007, Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm signed an identity theft protection bill into law that requires businesses in the state of Michigan to notify consumers when personal information has been illegally accessed or stolen. Prior to this time, businesses were not compelled to inform their customers of breaches to their systems.

Notifying consumers about a security breach gives them the opportunity to take protective and preventive measures to avoid identity theft. They can place fraud alerts on their credit reports, which pumps up monitoring of activity. Michigan is also considering the addition of a security freeze law that would allow consumers to “freeze” their credit reports from being accessed by anyone without their permission. Already adopted by more than 30 states, freeze laws have been likened to placing a padlock on your identity and could prove to be the most ‘bullet proof' form of identity theft prevention.

Along with requiring businesses to notify customers of a security breach, the new law imposes stiffer penalties for those who don't. If a company fails to contact consumers it can face fines up to $750,000 – the strongest penalty in the country.

To find out what your state laws are concerning identity theft prevention and protection, contact your state Attorney General's office.

How can identity theft be prevented in schools?

Five Tips to Prevent Identity Theft in Schools

Educational institutions have a responsibility to keep staff and student information safe and secure. Here are nine tips on how to prevent identity theft in the schools.

1. Know What Identity Theft Is

If you don't understand what identity theft is or how it happens, you will be unequipped to recognize and handle potentially dangerous situations. Most identity theft is directed at employees rather than the students using low-tech methods. Educating staff about ‘social engineering' techniques should be a high priority. For example, an ID thief might call a district office asking for employee information for ‘verification' purposes. Create a process to handle these types of calls that will determine whether or not the request is legitimate.

2. Appoint an Information Security Officer

The person in charge of IT security should review the handling of all sensitive information – how it is handled, who has access, and where it is stored.

3. Conduct Ongoing Training

Distribute information about maintaining security to both staff and students using printed literature, e-mails and webinars or closed circuit television. And invite specialists to conduct in-school training sessions.

4. Be Specific with ID Theft Prevention Suggestions

Tell staff, particularly those working in areas that have a lot of personal information like human resources, exactly what to do. Advise them to always log off or turn off their computers whenever the leave their desk, and thoroughly brief them about online phishing schemes that try to extract personal information from unsuspecting victims.

5. Identify All Sources of Sensitive Information

While computers are the main source of stored information, put security measures in place for protecting information included on paper reports, filed in cabinets, and loaded onto laptops and PDAs.

Is there an easy way to remember the basics for preventing identity theft?

Prevent ID Theft by Following the SCAM Formula

If using acronyms helps you to remember important data, then commit this one to memory to help prevent identity theft. It will remind you of the fundamentals for minimizing risks of becoming a victim.

  • STINGY: Be stingy – keep your personal information personal and ask questions of those who want you to part with it. Guard your Social Security number – it's like gold to identity thieves. And take extra precautions to keep your incoming and outgoing mail out of reach. If you will be out of town, ask your local post office to hold delivery until your return. And remember to shred unneeded documents that contain your personal information.
  • CHECK: Check your financial information regularly. Review bank statements for unauthorized withdrawals, and check credit card accounts for fraudulent charges. Know your monthly cycles for receipt of statements and if one doesn't come, contact the institution immediately to report possible fraudulent activity. Verify your address to ensure someone has not hijacked your information with a change of address request.
  • ASK: Ask to receive your credit report at least once a year from each of the credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. (It's free!) Review every account listed on the report. If you find accounts that you did not open or authorize, contact the reporting agency immediately to place a fraud alert on your report.
  • MAINTAIN: Maintain records of your accounts for at least one year. They will be helpful if you ever need to dispute a specific transaction.

Other steps you can take to avoid identity theft include the following: Sign new credit cards immediately and write “Ask for ID” on them. Watch cashiers closely. Watch anyone who handles your checks or plastic cards. Memorize your Social Security number and passwords. Do not use your date of birth as your password and do not record passwords on papers you carry with you. When using an ATM, be aware of your surroundings, i.e., someone attempting to get your PIN number. Also, be wary of the machine itself. Check to make sure that the machine has not been retrofitted with a skimming device that would capture the details of the transaction. Never leave transaction receipts at ATM machines, gas stations or points of sale.

What am I supposed to be looking at on my credit report that indicates identity theft?

Review Your Credit Report for Telltale Signs of Identity Theft

Identity theft takes over your entire life, taking you away from home and work responsibilities as you work to clean up the havoc surrounding your bank accounts, the misuse of your Social Security number and your own identity. Thieves steal the identities of others so they can obtain credit, buy health insurance and get jobs. Regardless of why they steal the identities of others, this crime is not “victimless” – if your identity, credit history or Social Security number are stolen, you can be mistaken for someone you are not.

Identity Theft
When someone takes over your identity to open credit and bank accounts in your name, this is identity theft. According to, this crime is committed so subsequent crimes can be carried out.

Because so may people store bits and pieces of their identity online – and on their cell phones – it becomes much easier for a identity thief to find those pieces of information so they can literally create an entire new identity, leaving their own true identities behind. Once they have the information they need, they are able to apply for and obtain new credit cards and loans in your name. If they fail to make required payments, you are the one who suffers, because the derogatory information is entered on your credit history.

How it Happens
It is all too easy for someone to obtain your private information. You toss an invitation for a new credit card into the trash can. You stay logged into your online bank account after you’ve finished updating your check register. You toss detailed medical information into the trash. You leave ATM receipts hanging from the ATM machine after you leave the machine with your card and cash. You leave your purse open, where someone can find and take your credit cards, driver license and ATM card.

This happens to too many people, who leave their information and cards unsecured. They have just made it too easy for others to steal that information or those cards.

Order Your Credit Report Annually
Go to and request one free copy of your credit report from all three credit reporting agencies. If you do not have Internet access, call 1-877-322-8008. Your reports will be free from the three agencies if you order through this website or call the toll-free number.

You have probably seen television advertisements for free credit reports. When you contact these companies, you are required to provide your credit card information. That free credit report soon becomes a monthly financial obligation. These are imposter sites.

Review your credit reports in detail once you receive them. Highlight any information that you know is wrong. You will need to file a dispute letter with the company that reported the information. This could be evidence of identity theft, especially if you do not remember applying for credit with that company.

Protect Yourself Offline
Buy a shredder. These are available at big-box discount stores and office supply stores. The amount you pay for these machines will repay themselves quickly as you shred credit card invitations, outdated insurance or medical information and old bills. Every time you get an invitation you don’t want, shred it and cut up the faux credit card that is often attached to the invitation. Shred old bills on a regular basis.

Lock your Social Security card up in a locking file cabinet at home. Take it out only when you need to verify your identity for a job application.

Store your wallet or purse safely away, especially when you are expecting guests. Increase your level of protection further by storing your debit and credit cards in that locking file cabinet.

Online Protection
Do not use your user name or password at unprotected free wi-fi hotspots. Access your online bank account at home only. Once you are done with your browsing session, log out completely. Change your password periodically, choosing a password that is difficult. Do not use easily identifiable passwords, such as pet names, dates of birth or other information that could be linked to you. Each password should be unique.

What can businesses do to prevent identity theft?

Four Things Businesses Can Do to Prevent Identity Theft

While individuals have to protect their own personal information to prevent identity theft, businesses have a greater responsibility to protect their customers' personal information from identity theft. Here are four precautions businesses should take:

1) Use alarm systems.

We may often think that customer information stored in our computer systems is stolen by savvy Internet computer hackers, but there's plenty of identity theft happening the old fashioned way – by physically stealing documents. Alarm systems are effective deterrents – especially those that are monitored by a security company. In addition to using an alarm system, make it more difficult for thieves to access your offices by using deadbolts on external doors and secure exposed windows with security film, bars, screens or shatter-proof glass.

2) Lock up business records.

Use locking file cabinets to store physical business records. Be sure to lock the filing cabinets at night and during the day when there's no one available to monitor access. For computer system and database back ups, lock them in a safe or a security deposit box. Don't leave them lying around.

3) Shred paper documents.

Tossing business records out with the trash or placing in the recycling bin is an invitation for disaster. Shred all business records that you no longer need before placing into the recycling bins and don't forget to include any mail or billing documents that has sensitive information on it. If you have large volumes of data that needs to be destroyed, contract with a shredding service that will come to you. They will shred the documents and dispose of them properly.

4) Limit computer access.

Password-protect your computers and limit access to sensitive information on a “need-to-know” basis. Also, when a employee no longer works for your business, immediately cut off their access to your computer network. Yes, this could lead to more expense, but a disgruntled employee can do a lot of damage. You must take all steps necessary to prevent and avoid identity theft for you and your customers.

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Susan Sayour