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Identity theft is a rapidly growing threat to your finance security. Nationwide, the number of reported cases is increasing at an alarming rate. A criminal who successfully steals your identity can wreak havoc on your finances and your good credit.
Follow these basic steps to avoid becoming a victim:
- Don't give out your personal information -- Never reveal your account numbers, personal account information or social security numbers over the telephone, via mail or over the internet, unless you initiated the contact or know who you are dealing with.
- Dispose of sensitive personal information safely -- Carelessly discarded financial documents can be a treasure trove of information to a thief. Tear up or shred credit card and ATM receipts, account statements and unused credit card offers before throwing them away.
- Protect your PIN numbers and other passwords -- Keeping your passwords and PINs secure is essential to your financial security. Don't set up your passwords or PINs using information that can be easily obtained. (Such as your mother's maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your social security number or your phone number).
- Only carry identifying information that you routinely use -- Keep your driver's license, credit card and related items close at hand. Don't carry more identification in your wallet or purse than you need on a daily basis.
- Watch your account information and billing statements -- Know your billing cycles and review your monthly account statements carefully. Make sure that all charges, drafts or withdrawals were authorized.
- Prevent the theft of your mail -- Don't allow incoming mail to accumulate in your mailbox. Retrieve it promptly. Deposit all of your outgoing mail at post office collection boxes. Don't leave outgoing mail in your unsecured mailbox.
- Review copies of your credit report -- Thanks to the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act, one free copy of your credit report is now available annually from each of the three major credit bureaus. We strongly encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity to review your credit report each year. You should check it carefully for any errors and for signs of fraudulent activity. The federal government required the creation of a centralized location where consumers may reliably obtain their free credit reports.
To receive your free annual credit reports:
- Visit www.annualcreditreport.com
- Call 1-877-322-8228
- Mail your request to:
Annual Credit Report Request Service
PO Box 105281
Atlanta, GA 30348-5281
If you become a victim of identity theft, take the following steps as quickly as possible to minimize the potential damage to you:
- File a police report with your local law enforcement agency. You will need a report on file in order to dispute unauthorized charges.
- Contact the fraud departments of each of the three major credit bureaus to report the identity theft and request that the bureaus place a fraud alert status in your fie. You are also entitled by law to receive a free copy of your credit report if you are a victim of identity theft. To report fraud to the major credit bureaus, call:
- Contact the Federal Trade Commission's toll-free Identity Theft Hotline.
To contact the hotline call:
1-877-ID-THEFT (1-877-438-4338) or visit: www.consumer.gov/idtheft
- The FTC will take a report and place your name in the nationwide 'Consumer Sentinel' consumer fraud database shared by local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.
- Finally, contact your creditors and inform them. Close your accounts, change all account passwords, and obtain new credit, debit and ATM cards.
For additional information on what you can do if you believe you are a victim of identity theft, visit: www.consumer.gov/idtheft
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