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Protect Yourself

Protect Your Identity

According to the Federal Trade Commission, 27.3 million Americans have been victims of identity theft in the last five years. In addition, identity theft cost US businesses and financial institutions nearly $84 billion in 2002. While a large majority of identity theft is for the purpose of setting up accounts, obtaining credit and making fraudulent purchases, the FTC reported that personal information is also being misused in non-financial ways, using the victim's name when stopped by law enforcement, or when caught committing a crime.

In many cases, months can pass before a victim is aware of any wrongdoing. Typically, either a collection agency or a loan rejection alerts the victim to the crimes. There are several actions you can take to protect your personal information. Follow the Do's and Don'ts below to help minimize your risk of identity theft.

Do...

  • Shred Everything! All personal and financial information-such as bills, ATM receipts, and credit card offers should go in the shredder before being thrown away.
  • Keep personal documentation in a secure place.
  • Call the post office immediately if you are not receiving your mail. To get the personal information needed to use your identity, a thief can forge your signature and have your mail forwarded.
  • Be aware of your surroundings when entering your Personal Identification Number (PIN) at an ATM or retail check out.
  • Limit the number of credit cards and other personal information that you carry in your wallet or purse.
  • Report lost or stolen credit cards immediately and cancel all inactive credit card accounts.
  • Keep track of all credit cards applied for and if the card is not received in a timely manner, immediately notify the issuer.
  • Closely monitor the expiration dates on your credit cards. Contact the credit issuer if the replacement card is not received prior to your credit card's expiration date.
  • Sign all new credit cards upon receipt.
  • Review your credit reports annually.
  • Use passwords on your credit cards, bank accounts, and phone cards. Avoid using obvious passwords.
  • Match your credit card receipts against monthly bills to make sure there are no unauthorized charges.

Don't...

  • Volunteer any personal information when you use your credit card.
  • Give your Social Security number, credit card number, or any account details over the phone unless you have initiated the call and know that the business that you are dealing with is reputable.
  • Leave receipts at ATMs, retail stores or service stations.
  • Leave envelopes containing your credit card payments or checks in your home mailbox for postal carrier pickup.
  • Record your Social Security number or passwords on paper and store them in your wallet or purse. Memorize your numbers and/or passwords, instead.
  • Disclose bank account numbers, credit card account numbers, and other personal financial data on any web site or online service location, unless you receive a secured authentication key from your provider.

If you believe you might be a victim of identity theft:

  1. Contact the three national credit bureaus to report the identity theft and request a "fraud alert" on their account. This ensures that the member will be contacted before any new account is opened and if an existing account is changed. You should also request copies of your credit report and pay particular attention to the section of the report that lists "inquiries" from new companies. If there are companies you do not recognize, you should contact those companies.
  2. File a police report and remember to get the report number and/or a copy of the report.
  3. Contact the fraud departments of creditors, including phone companies, utilities, etc. They should send a letter that describes the problem. This is especially important for credit card issuers, since the consumer protection law requires cardholders to submit disputes in writing.
  4. File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC has developed a special tool to help simplify the ID theft reporting process.

More Information

Check out these sites geared specifically for identity theft:

Seaboard also offers the following brochures on identity theft:

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