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Cheat Sheet

Identity Theft For Dummies

From Identity Theft For Dummies by Michael J. Arata, Jr.

Identity theft is a growing crime. You have a lot of personal information to keep track of, so be vigilant to prevent identity theft. This Cheat Sheet shows some of the critical information you need to protect, ways to secure your online information, and how and where to get help if your identity is stolen.

Keys to Protecting Your Identity

Protect your personal information to limit your exposure to identity theft. Identity thieves target certain types of personal information and have many clever ways to get it. Everyone needs to protect the following:

  • Social Security Number (SSN): Never carry your Social Security card with you unless it's the first day on a new job. Don't give your SSN to anyone but the government.

  • Your personal identification number (PIN): Protect your PIN number for your ATM card. Make up a PIN that only you will know and that no one can guess easily. You change your PIN at least every 90 days. Do not write it down and place it your wallet.

  • Date of birth (DOB): Your DOB and your SSN are two important pieces of information that are needed to steal your identity.

In addition, the following identity theft-prevention tips can help you keep your personal information secure:

  • Shred sensitive documents: Shred any documents that have personal information, bank accounts, credit card accounts, and so on before you discard them.

  • Opt out of preapproved credit card offers: By receiving preapproved credit applications in the mail, you increase your chances of becoming a victim of identity theft. You can opt out of preapproved credit card applications by calling the toll-free number, (888) 567-8688.

  • Don’t fall for job scams: The ID thief tricks you into giving her your personal information through a phony job offer ruse.

Identity Theft: Ten Ways to Secure Your Computer

Being secure online is critical to protecting your identity. Mining the personal information that's on your computer is an identity thief's dream — not to mention all the personal information about you that's on the Internet. Make it harder for identity thieves to get this information by following these tips to secure your computer:

  • Use a firewall: A firewall blocks unauthorized access to your computer while allowing you access to the Internet. Windows comes with a built-in firewall.

    Make sure the built-in firewall is turned on in Windows 7 by clicking the Start button and then choosing Control Panel→System and Security→Action Center. On Windows Vista, click the Start button and then choose Control Panel→Windows Security Center.

  • Use an antivirus program: Antivirus programs help you prevent, detect, and remove viruses, Trojan horses, and other malware, such as adware and spyware. Several are available for free and purchase.

  • Use spyware blocking software: Spyware is a program that secretly collects information about you. Generally, spyware isn't dangerous, although some spyware contains viruses and other malware. Your antivirus program identifies spyware that's on your computer, tells you the threat level that the spyware poses, and gives you the chance to delete the spyware.

  • Install updates to your Windows operating system (OS): These updates are sometimes referred to as hot fixes or patches. These updates come from Microsoft and are important to fix any security holes that may be present in the Windows OS. Using Automatic Updates ensures that your system is up to date and all the latest patches are installed, and you don't have to think about it after you turn on Automatic Updates.

  • Password-protect guest accounts: Do not leave the guest password account without a name and password. This could allow someone to set up their own guest user name and password.

  • Use strong passwords: Creating strong passwords helps prevent thieves from guessing your passwords. Use at least six characters and include upper- and lowercase letter, numbers, and non-alphabetic characters (!, #, %, &, $). Change your passwords at least every 90 days.

  • Use encryption: Encryption scrambles the text so that it can't be read without decrypting it, and you need a key (or password) to do that. Several encryption programs are available for purchase. The cost of the program is likely worth the extra level of protection that encryption provides.

  • Increase browser security settings: In Internet Explorer, choose Tools→Internet Options; in the dialog box that appears, choose the Security tab. Here you can choose a security level (Medium, Medium-High, High, or Custom).

    In Firefox, choose Tools→Options. Here you find various tabs (Content, Privacy, and Security) where you can adjust security settings.

  • Protect your shared files:

    1. Choose Start→Run, and then type regedit and click OK.

    2. Navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\System\CurrentControlSet\Services\lanmanserver\parameters.

    3. Type the value word autosharewks and enter a value of 0.

    4. Restart your computer.

  • Do not open or reply to unknown e-mails: E-mail attachments are used to carry viruses and Trojan horses, so don't open e-mail attachments from unknown senders. Messages to be especially wary of are ones that go to your junk mail account. These messages can often come from unfriendly sources — the type that would send you a virus in an e-mail.

Where to Get Help with Identity Theft Protection

If you need help with identity protection, there's plenty available. Identity theft protection companies, credit bureaus, and government agencies are there to help you protect your identity or restore your reputation should you become a victim. Here's a summary of those resources:

Agency/Name Phone Number What Information They Provide
Federal Trade Commission 877-382-4357 How to protect yourself and what to do if you are a victim.
Social Security Administration 800-772-1213 How to report fraud and misuse of your SSN.
United States Postal Service 877-876-2455 (Postal Inspectors) It is under the tab contact us. MJA How to protect yourself from becoming a victim and how to report mail theft.
Equifax 866-640-2273 Credit bureau; provides credit reports you can use to track your credit history and standing
Experian 888-397-3742 It is on the web site under contact us MJA Credit bureau; provides credit reports you can use to track your credit history and standing
TransUnion 800-680-7289 Credit bureau; provides credit reports you can use to track your credit history and standing
AnnualCreditReport.com (Free credit report; no monthly fee) 877-322-8228 It is on the site MJA Order free annual credit report from all three credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) at no charge
ChexSystems 800-428-9623 Check verification company; Helps with fraudulent, lost, or stolen checks. Also provides information on why a check was denied.
Certegy (No Web site) 800-437-5120 Check verification company; helps with fraudulent, lost, or stolen checks. Also provides information on why a check was denied.
TeleCheck
(Owned by First Data)
800-366-2425 Check verification company; helps with fraudulent, lost, or stolen checks. Also provides information on why a check was denied.
SCAN 800-262-7771 Check verification company; helps with fraudulent, lost, or stolen checks. Also provides information on why a check was denied.
Identity Theft Resource Center 888 400-5530 Information about identity theft and resources to assist you if you become a victim.
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse 619-298-3396 Information on identity theft prevention and what to do if you become a victim.
U.S. Department of Justice 202-514-2000 (Main switchboard) Identity theft prevention and reporting if you become a victim.
Truston 800-960-5512 Identity theft prevention company; guides you through the process of fixing your credit if you become a victim. Provides information on preventing identity theft.
LifeLock 800-543-3562 Identity theft prevention company; guides you through the process of fixing your credit if you become a victim. Provides information on preventing identity theft.

What to Do When Your Identity Is Stolen

If you become an identity theft victim, you have lots of work ahead. These tips for dealing with identity theft can help you reclaim your good name:

  • File a police report. Not all states have passed legislation to mandate that local law enforcement agencies take reports of identity theft, but most law enforcement agencies will. To report identity theft in most jurisdictions, call the local law enforcement agency's non-violent non-emergency phone line. (Do not call 911.)

  • Complete a fraud affidavit. The fraud affidavit can be found on the Federal Trade Commission Web site as the theft affidavit. Keep copies of each affidavit you send out in your journal, along with the certified return receipt.

    Completing the fraud affidavit isn't difficult, but it can be time consuming. You need to complete one for each creditor, but you can streamline the process by completing the Victim Information section and then making copies to use for all the rest of the creditors and banks to whom you're sending the form. Be sure to sign each one before you send it.

  • Place a fraud alert or credit freeze on your credit report. The fraud alert requests creditors to contact you before opening any new accounts or making any changes to your existing accounts. As soon as the credit bureau confirms your fraud alert, the other two credit bureaus are notified automatically to place fraud alerts. You have to request that the reports be sent to you.

    A credit freeze is a good tool to help you reclaim your identity because it prevents the identity thief from using your credit to open accounts in your name. If you've been a victim, the freezes are free; otherwise, you have to pay to implement the freeze.

  • Continue to check your credit report regularly. When it comes to identity theft, there's no substitute for diligently reviewing your credit report. If you ever see something suspicious, act on it immediately.

  • Dispute all charges you didn't make. Don't be pressured into paying charges you didn't make or authorize. Even if the amount is small, don't pay. The creditors will try and recoup some of their losses from you by telling you that if you pay this small amount, you'll be helping yourself because the charge won't go to collections. Making a payment, in some cases, is considered accepting responsibility for the debt.

  • Report your stolen checks. You do this through a check verification company, such as SCAN or Certegy.

  • Close compromised accounts. If you think an account is being used by someone else, close it immediately.

  • Document conversations. Write down the name of anyone you talk to, what he or she told you, and the date the conversation occurred.

  • Organize your paperwork. There will be lots to keep track of in the paper trail:

    Keep the originals of supporting documentation, such as police reports and letters to and from creditors; send copies only.

    Set up a filing system for easy access to your paperwork.

    Keep copies of all correspondence or forms you send, with creditors and anyone else.

    Keep old files even if you believe your case is closed. One of the most difficult and annoying aspects of identity theft is that errors can reappear on your credit reports or your information can be re-circulated. Should this happen, you'll be glad you kept your files.

  • Follow up. Follow up in writing with all contacts you've made on the phone or in person. Use certified mail, return receipt requested.

  • Follow a checklist. Use this list as a checklist to help you ensure you have completed all tasks and followed up as necessary.

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