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Attorney advises how to lessen risk of ID theft

November 23, 2010
A corporate attorney sent the following advice to his company's employees who travel. Security is tantamount! 1. The next time you order checks, have only your initials (instead of first name) and last name put on them. A thief who takes the checkbook would not know if the checks are signed using just initials or with the first name, but the bank would know. 2. When writing checks to pay on credit card accounts, indicate only the last four digits of the account number on the "For" line. The credit card company knows the rest of the numbers, but anyone who might handle the check as it passes through the processing channels won't have access to it. 3. Indicate a work phone number on checks instead of a home number, and a post office box number or work addressinstead of a home street address. Never print Social Security numbers on  checks. 4. Photocopy both sides of all contents of a wallet. That will confirm the wallet's contents and indicate all account numbers and phone numbers to call and cancel, if necessary. Keep the photocopies in a safe place. My wallet was stolen last month. Within a week, the thieves ordered an expensive monthly cell phone package, applied for a Visa credit card, had a credit line approved to buy a Gateway computer, received a personal identification number from the Department of Motor Vehicles to change my driving record information on-line, and more. But here's some critical information to limit any damage: • Cancel credit cards immediately. The key is having the toll-free numbers and your card account numbers handy, to know whom to call. • File a police report immediately in the jurisdiction where it was stolen. That proves diligence to credit providers, and it is a first step in any investigation. But perhaps most important: • Call the three national credit reporting organizations immediately to place a fraud alert on your name and Social Security number. I had never heard of doing that until advised by a bank that called to tell me an application for credit was made in my name over the Internet. The alert means any company that checks your credit knows your information was stolen and they have to contact you by phone to authorize new credit. By the time I was advised to do this, almost two weeks after the theft, all the damage had been done. There are records of all credit checks initiated by thieves' purchases, none of which I knew about before placing the alert. Since then, no additional damage has been done, and the thieves threw my wallet away this weekend. (Someone turned it in.) It seems to have stopped them in their tracks. The credit reporting agencies are: Equifax: (800) 525-6285 Experian (formerly TRW): (888) 397-3742 Trans Union: (800) 680-7289 Social Security Administration (fraud line): (800) 269-0271
 

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