Anonymous Advice for Identity Theft?
Date Added: Nov. 19, 2001
Identity theft has become one of the top crimes in the U.S., as well as other parts of the world. The typical purse or wallet contains plenty of information about its holder that a less-than-honest party could use for financial gain. This chain answers (fairly accurately in most cases) the big question of what to do if your purse or wallet is stolen, but like most chain letters, it has begun to misinform.
A corporate attorney sent this out to the employees in his company. I pass it along, for your information.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU LOSE YOUR PURSE OR WALLET
We've all heard horror stories about fraud that's committed us in your name, address, SS#, credit, etc. Unfortunately I (the author of this piece who happens to be an attorney) have firsthand knowledge, because my wallet was stolen last month and within a week the thieve(s) 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 PIN number from DMV to change my driving record information online, and more.
But here's some critical information to limit the damage in case this happens to you or someone you know. As everyone always advises, cancel your credit cards immediately, but the key is having the toll free numbers and your card numbers handy so you know whom to call. Keep those where you can find them easily.
1. File a police report immediately in the jurisdiction where it was stolen, this proves to credit providers you were diligent, and is a first step toward an investigation (if there ever is one).
2. But here's what is perhaps most important: (I never ever thought to do this) - Call the three national credit reporting organizations immediately to place a fraud alert on your name and SS#. I had never heard of doing that until advised by a bank that called to tell me and application for credit was made over the Internet in my name. 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 2 weeks after the theft, all the damage had been done. There are records of all the credit checks initiated by the 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 numbers are:
We pass along jokes; we pass along just about everything. Do think about passing this information along. It could really help someone
Many people today fear having their purse or wallet stolen more than being in an automobile accident or falling victim to violent crime - probably with good reason. The incidence of identity theft has increased significantly in recent years, with the crime becoming, by many accounts, the most prevalent and costly type of crime in the U.S.
It is certainly prudent to know what to do in the unfortunate event that you lose control over who has access to your valuable personal information. But it's equally as prudent to ensure that the information and advice you follow comes from a reliable source. An anonymously authored e-mail chain-letter should not be that source.
The advice above about what to do if your credit cards are lost or stolen began circulating among e-mail inboxes in October, 2001. At that time, ID theft was synonymous with credit card theft. But we now know that ID theft is much more than stealing credit cards to make fraudulent purchases. ID thieves can use the information contained in a typical purse or wallet to open bank accounts, create official documents, avoid criminal liability and much more.
Certainly, if your purse or wallet are lost or stolen, you should immediately file a report with local law enforcement. What made this chain letter popular was the more obscure advice about reporting the loss to the major credit unions. This is also good advice, but the phone numbers given in different versions of this chain vary, so double-check with each of the organizations to verify the number before you call.
Your efforts shouldn't stop there. Remember, ID theft is much more than just fraudulent credit card use.
Since this letter first appeared, consumers have been given another tool to monitor their credit for unauthorized use. Citizens in all 50 states in the U.S. have access to one free credit report per year from each of the three major credit reporting services. Visit AnnualCreditReport.com to get yours.
Here's a brief collection of tips culled from various sources (including the SSA, the Federal Trade Commission and several state Attorneys General) about how to minimize the amount of damage that can be done before your wallet or purse is lost or stolen.
In 2003, a list of questionable tips about using checks was added to the credit card chain letter. Like the original piece, the author is unknown, but unlike the piece above, this "advice" seems to be more opinion-based and much more questionable.
The next time you order checks have only your initials (instead of first name) and last name put on them. If someone takes your check book they will not know if you sign your checks with just your initials or your first name but your bank will know how you sign your checks. When you are writing checks to pay on your credit card accounts, DO NOT put the complete account number on the "For" line. Instead, just put the last four numbers. The credit card company knows the rest of the number and anyone who might be handling your check as it passes through all the check processing channels won't have access to it.
Put your work phone # on your checks instead of your home phone. If you have a PO Box use that instead of your home address. (NOTE: Many places will not accept a check with a PO address. Found this out when I moved to this area. Perry) If you do not have a PO Box use your work address. Never have your SS# printed on your checks --(DUH!) -- you can add it if it is necessary. But if you have it printed, anyone can get it.
Place the contents of your wallet on a photocopy machine, do both sides of each license, credit card, etc. You will know what you had in your wallet and all of the account numbers and phone numbers to call and cancel. Keep the photocopy in a safe place. I also carry a photocopy of my passport when I travel either here or abroad.
About the only fully reliable tip in this addendum is the one about photocopying your cards. The rest is questionable, at the least (as one revisionist noted in the text about P.O. Boxes).
Identity theft is a real and serious threat and your protection against it should include much more than advice from anonymously-authored and randomly-forwarded e-mail chain letters. Break this chain.
References: Social Security Administration, Federal Trade Commission - "Credit, ATM and Debit Cards: What to do if They're Lost or Stolen", Federal Trade Commission - "Take Charge: Fighting Back Against Identity Theft", AnnualCreditReport.com