Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Best defense on ID theft: Go digital, detect quickly

SAN FRANCISCO (3/24/08)--The longer you wait to report identity theft, the more it costs you, warn authors of Javelin's 2008 Identity Fraud Survey Report ( March 17).

Victims who reported identity theft or fraud within one day spent an average of $428, compared with $1,207 for victims who wait up to five months, according to the report--the nation's longest-running study of identity theft, now in its fourth consecutive year.

Despite a 12% decline in the number of reported thefts from 2006, fraud is still a major concern. And despite the growing incidence of reported data breaches, identity thieves more often obtain your personal information primarily from traditional methods--theft of personal belongings and phony phone calls--rather than from online fraud ( Feb. 11).

Take precautions now to reduce your risk of becoming a victim:
  • Go digital. By paying bills online, you reduce the risk that checks and statements containing personal information may be stolen by identity thieves. And have your paycheck deposited electronically into your account.
  • Monitor accounts online and frequently. Use credit union and other financial institutions'websites to check for signs of fraud, and report suspicious or unauthorized activity immediately. Consumers with 24/7 access to account activity are most likely to uncover fraud the fastest.
  • Install and update security software. Make sure you have a firewall, antispyware, antivirus software, and browser security software on your home computer.
  • Never give personal information to callers. Don't respond to phone messages that prompt you to call another telephone number about your account. Similarly, don't send account information via e-mail messages--they're not secure. Use contact information you already have for the financial institutions with which you do business.
  • Order your free credit reports. A regular review of your credit file may detect unauthorized accounts or other fraudulent activity. Go to to order one free report per year from Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian.
  • Shred it. Get rid of sensitive papers and statements you no longer need that contain personal information.

Finally, change a few daily habits. Mail bills from a locked mailbox; secure sensitive mobile data stored on a laptop, PDA (personal data assistant) or phone; and don't carry your Social Security card in your wallet unless you need it for a specific purpose on that given day. A stolen wallet that contains a Social Security card--as well as your address and other forms of identification--is like handing over your identity to a thief.

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