Tips On Preventing and Limiting Identity Theft

August 15, 2008, Written By Sarah Hefner

Recently, eleven people were charged with the largest case of identity theft. They are accused of hacking nine major retailers and the theft and sale of more than 41 million credit and debit card numbers.

The retailers that were affected were Boston Market, Sports Authority, Barnes & Noble, OfficeMax, Forever 21, BJ’s Wholesale Club, DSW Shoes, Dave & Buster’s and the TJX Companies, which include TJ Maxx and Marshalls stores.

We are moving to a cashless society, so the threat of identity theft will increase in the years to come. Retailers need to take major steps to protect their customers. But there are a number of steps that consumers can do to both prevent and limit credit card fraud.

Here are the top ten tips to protect yourself against identity theft:

1. Don’t publicly post anything you may use as a password: your birth date, pet’s name, mother’s maiden name, or your school. Identity thieves can use the information you post to guess your password.

2. Regularly review your statements from your accounts. Make sure all the purchases that appear are transactions that you actually authorized.

3. Pay attention to your monthly bills and follow up with creditors if one does not arrive on time. A missing credit card bill could mean an identity thief has changed your billing address to cover his/her tracks.

4. Put a fraud alert on your account. It will notify creditors to verify your identification before issuing credit in your name. A security freeze prevents potential creditors from accessing your credit report without your consent. The credit reporting company may charge a fee to place or remove a security freeze.

5. If you are moving, notify credit card companies and financial institutions in advance of any change of address or telephone number. Contact the sender if your statements are not received in the mail by their usual time.

6. Watch your mail. When a breach occurs and you were exposed, the company is required to send you a notification letter with an explanation and what to do. It may also offer a free credit monitoring service to monitor your account and pay for the initial cost of a security freeze. These letters are easy to miss and throw away because they look like junk mail and may come from an unfamiliar third party service.

7. Several times a year, order your credit report from one or more of the national credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, TransUnion). This costs $10 per report. You may obtain a free copy of your credit report once a year at www.freeannualcreditreport.com

8. If you use a wireless router, enable the encryption to scramble the data you send online.

9. Shred the following items you get in the mail: receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, bank checks and statements, expired charge cards, convenience checks, and credit offers. Clean the receipts out of your wallet and car several times a week.

10. Mail anything with personal information or payment at the post office, not from your mailbox.

If you suspect identity theft, there are a number of steps you should take:

–Notify the company about the data breach, as well as law enforcement authorities, all three credit reporting agencies, and the FTC.

–Close any credit and debit accounts that may have been compromised by theft or loss.

–Your credit card issuer offers protection against unauthorized purchases. Under federal law, your maximum liability for unauthorized use of your credit card is $50. If you find unauthorized charges on your billing statement, send a letter to your issuer describing each charge. Include the date your card was lost or stolen, when you first noticed the problem and when you first reported it. Send this letter to the address for billing errors.

–Keep up with all paperwork that involves your fraud case. You will probably be asked to provide corroborating evidence of the unauthorized transaction or identity theft. This includes a signed affidavit, law enforcement or governmental agency reports, receipts of expenses, and insurance declaration forms.


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The information contained within this article was accurate as of August 15, 2008. For up-to-date
information on any of the terms, cards or offers mentioned above, visit the issuer's website.