Identity can be protected

Published 2:16 pm Monday, April 16, 2007

By Staff
As technology has advanced so too have the opportunities for thieves who seek to steal a person's very identity. Identity theft is a frightening crime that is becoming more and more common.
When a person's identity is stolen, their reputation can be destroyed, their sense of security shattered, and their life savings completely wiped out.
Identity thieves can use your personal information to open credit card accounts in your name, apply for utilities in your name, borrow money in your name, or even make major purchases in your name.
A few weeks ago in this column, I mentioned that I was asked about identity theft at a town meeting in Satsuma, and I am going to use this week's column to discuss the topic and provide information on how to protect yourself from becoming a victim as well as steps you can take in the unfortunate event your identity is stolen.
Identity theft has become so prevalent that last May, President Bush signed an executive order creating the Identity Theft Task Force, designed to develop ways to better prevent identity theft, coordinate prosecution, and ensure recovery for victims. The task force is chaired by U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Federal Trade Commission Chairman Deborah Platt Mejores.
While nothing can guarantee that you will never become a victim of identity theft, there are certainly ways to minimize both your risk and the damage that can be done if someone uses your personal information. The best advice is to make it as difficult as possible for thieves to access your personal information, including your social security number, charge receipts, insurance forms, and bank statements.
Many times thieves obtain this information by going through the trash, so always shred (and at the very least tear) mail and other documents you are discarding.
It is also a good rule of thumb not to place outgoing mail containing personally identifying information in an unsecured mailbox. Instead, deposit this mail in post office collection boxes or at your local post office. Remember to remove mail promptly from your mailbox, and if you are going out of town, ask the Postal Service to hold your mail until you can pick it up or are at home to receive it.
The Internet has made our daily lives much easier. Who would have thought just 15 years ago that we would be able to pay our bills, do our grocery shopping, and buy movie tickets all with the click of a mouse and all without leaving home? Unfortunately, what often makes our lives easier also opens doors for criminals.
Place passwords on your online credit card, bank, and phone accounts and avoid using easily available information such as your mother's maiden name, your birth date, or the last four digits of your Social Security number as your password.
Do not give out personal information unless it is to a trusted source or you are the one who has initiated the contact.
Jo Bonner represents the Brewton area in the U.S. House of Representatives.
All too often, identity thieves pose as bank representatives, Internet service providers, or government agencies in order to get people to disclose identifying information.
Never give out personal information over the Internet unless you are using a secure website. One way to determine whether a website is secure is to look at the beginning of the web address in your browser's address bar - it should say &#8220https://” instead of &#8220http://.”
In the unfortunate event that you become a victim of identity theft, you should follow the following three steps as soon as possible, and keep a detailed record of your conversations and copies of all correspondence.
First, place a fraud alert on your credit reports, and review your credit reports. A fraud alert can help prevent an identity thief from opening any more accounts in your name.
You can contact the toll-free fraud number of any of the three consumer reporting companies (Equifax: 1-800-525-6285, Experian 1-800-397-3742, TransUnion 1-800-680-7289). The company you call is required to contact the other two, which will place an alert on their reports, as well.
Second, close the accounts that you know, or believe, have been tampered with or opened fraudulently by calling those companies. You should also follow-up in writing with letters sent by certified mail, return receipt requested, in order to document what was received and when.
Once the company has resolved the dispute, request a letter stating the disputed accounts have been closed and the fraudulent charges dismissed.
Third, file a report with your local police and the Federal Trade Commission. Many creditors will require you to provide them with a police report to document the crime, so it is important to contact law enforcement as soon as possible. Contact the FTC by calling 1-877-ID-THEFT.
Unfortunately, there is no way to completely protect yourself from becoming a victim of identity theft. Check your credit report periodically (you can request one free copy of your credit report from each nationwide consumer reporting agency once during a 12-month period by calling 1-877-322-8228 or visiting the website If you find anything on your report that should not be there, take action immediately.
My staff and I work for you.  If we can ever be of service, do not hesitate to call my office toll free at 1-800-288-8721 or visit my website at
For release the week of April 16, 2007. For more information, please contact Nancy Wall at (202)225-4931.
Jo Bonner represents the Brewton area in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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