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Identity Theft

How to Protect Your Name, Your Credit and Your Vital Information

Identity Theft by The Silver Lake Editors
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US$ 11.95
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The identity theft crisis keeps getting wider. In May 2005, MasterCard International discovered that as many as 50 million card accounts had been compromised by ID thieves. A month earlier, information and data broker LexisNexis said that several hundred thousand people may have had their profiles stolen from one of its U.S. databases. Information accessed included names, addresses, Social Security and driver license numbers. “This is everything an ID thief needs to set up a so-called ‘clone,’” says James Walsh, co-author of IDENTITY THEFT: How to Protect Your Name, Your Credit and Your Vital Information… And What to Do When Someone Hijacks Any of These (Silver Lake Publishing). The book, a March 2005 Library Journal #1 bestseller, emphasizes prevention as the best way to battle ID theft. “This is an alternate version of you that he uses to get credit cards, car loans and even jobs. The tricky thing about a clone—about true identity theft—is that it can take months or even years to show up. Smart crooks will wait until the attention fades—and then start using the stolen data.” LexisNexis said only about two percent of the people it notified about the possible theft of their information contacted it to accept the offer of free credit reports and credit monitoring; and none had reported any form of identity theft. According to IDENTITY THEFT, that’s good…but probably not good enough. There really isn’t any effective insurance against the frauds. Monitoring credit reports regularly can help detect problems early—but doesn’t do much to prevent crooks from using stolen information. According to the book, ID thieves are likely to sell and resell the information through multiple parties. Then, when someone decides to use the information to apply for credit, they’ll likely start with small, local credit accounts…and move to accounts with national banks or retailers over time. LexisNexis said its problems “predominantly relate to misappropriation by third parties of IDs and passwords from legitimate customers” and stressed that its technology infrastructure had not been breached. But the bigger problem is that it doesn’t have to be. “The thing that people need to remember is that their information is copied in many more places than they think,” says co-author Walsh, who is Silver Lake’s editorial director. “I’m sure that some of the people in the database didn’t even know they were there—and, of those who knew, most probably didn’t realize how much of their personal information was there.” Walsh notes that most people want specific advice for how they can prevent ID theft. And IDENTITY THEFT provides the following tips: 1. Keep your Social Security number private. This is the key piece of information that ID thieves seek, because it’s the basis of most consumer credit transactions in the U.S. Don’t allow your Social Security number to appear on checks or ID cards. Don’t give your Social Security number over the phone. If anyone asks for your Social Security number as proof that you are who you say you are, give them only the last four digits. 2. Manage your checking accounts carefully. The second most desireable item to an ID thief is a personal check (some ID thieves steal mailboxes, just to sort through the envelopes for checks). Keep the information on your checks to the bare minimum…your name only, if possible. Avoid writing checks in retail stores or other public places. Don’t keep extra cash in the checking account that you use for paying monthly bills. 3. Don’t carry too much plastic. Few people—even wealthy ones—need more than 3 or 4 credit cards. If you have more than this, your financial information is in enough databases that your risk of ID theft is increased. 4. Use credit cards as little as possible. Don’t become too dependent on credit cards for daily transactions. Use cash in restuarants and retail stores as much as you can. Designate certain cards for certain uses (for example, one card for online purchases, one for travel, etc.). 5. Stick to ATMs at your bank or other banks that you recognize. Avoid unfamiliar or “stand-alone” ATMs. In some cases, these machines are simply not secure; in others, ID thieves may manipulate the machines to keep your account information. 6. Avoid co-signing loans for friends or family members. Finance companies encourage friends or family members to co-sign loans for people with bad credit. But this is a bad deal for the co-signer. The risks are two-fold: The friend or family member can steal your identity…so can the staff at the bank or car dealership. If you want to help, lend as much cash as you can afford. This way, the most you can lose is the amount of the loan. 7. Never give personal information over the telephone to someone who has called you. Even if the person seems to be someone you know or from your bank or credit card company, insist on getting a return number and calling back before you give out information. And, when you do, only give out the last four digits of your social security number, credit card number or bank account number. Anyone who’s actually working for a finance company should have your information already and be able to confirm your information with partial numbers. 8. Understand that ID thieves are opportunistic. They cast a wide net. If they sense any difficulty, they will move on to the next potential victim. Your strategy should be to make yourself just hard enough to rob that the thief will pick on someone else. Silver Lake Publishing is an independent press specializing in books on personal finance, small business management, security, risk and insurance. It has been producing technical material for professionals in the insurance, risk management and security fields for almost two decades. IDENTITY THEFT: How to Protect Your Name, Your Credit and Your Vital Information…and What to Do When Someone Hijacks Any of These The Silver Lake Editors ISBN: 1-56343-777-5 $11.95 288 pages/trade paperback
Silver Lake Publishing; July 2005
269 pages; ISBN 9781563438004
Read online, or download in secure PDF format
Title: Identity Theft
Author: The Silver Lake Editors
 
Excerpt
Imagine getting a knock at your door one evening while you’re having dinner with your family. When you open the door, two federal agents and a local cop stand on your doorstep ready to arrest you. The problem? You’re accused of cocaine possession, distribution and money laundering. The Miranda begins. The police have the wrong person. You’ve never even seen cocaine in your life. But it’s going to take hours…maybe days…to straighten everything out. In the meantime, the Feds have banking records with your name and Social Security number on them that say you’ve been a drug dealer and money launderer for several years. You’re handcuffed and shoved into the backseat of a policecar while your kids cry on the front lawn. And—despite your alleged drug wealth—you can’t post bail to get out that night. Identity theft has become the fastest-growing crime; over 40 percent of all consumer complaints in the U.S. involve identity theft. ID theft will cost U.S. consumers and their banks or credit card companies more than $1.4 billion in 2004. By 2006, losses could reach $3.68 billion. Being dragged off to jail in front of your family may not be the worst that could happen. There you are—in jail for three days while you prove that the person committing all the crime in your name isn’t you. But, once you get out of jail you still live in fear of getting arrested again and again. Meanwhile, your imposter continues to use your identity to commit crimes and no one seems to be helping you find this crook and prosecute him. When you try to correct your criminal record, you run into several stumbling blocks. So, you contemplate a name change. You’d think it would be easy to eliminate a record that clearly doesn’t reflect you. You’d think it would be easy to convince the police, a judge, a government agency or similar authority that you’re not a thief, crook, debtor, felon and conman. But it’s not so easy. It becomes your word against a database. To people who work with the database, you’re a criminal—guilty until proven innocent.