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Identity Theft is Growing


Identity theft is a huge and growing problem

For the third time in one year, customers of a large national bank are being warned about identity theft. Customers who have home mortgages or student loans through Wells Fargo could get a letter in the mail that tells customers about an office break-in in Atlanta, during which four computers were stolen. The computers contained names, addresses, Social Security numbers and private financial information.

Identity theft occurs where someone uses your personal information to commit fraud. Identity theft includes someone fraudulently using someone else’s name, address, driver’s license number, credit card or bank information, Social Security number, or any other personal identification data without authorization. The thief uses this information to make major purchases or to open credit card accounts, bank accounts, and telephone service accounts, all in your name.

Identity theft affected more than 200,000 people last year, up 33 percent from 2002, according to the Federal Trade Commission, which maintains a database of complaints.


Guard against identity theft

Although you can not guarantee that you will never be a victim of identity theft, you can minimize your risk. By managing your personal information wisely, cautiously and with an awareness of the issue, you can help guard against identity theft.

  • Don't give out personal information on the phone, through the mail or over the Internet unless you've initiated the contact or are sure you know who you're dealing with.

  • Shred any personal or financial information documents before you throw them out. A cross-cut shredder is the safest way to destroy documents that have any trace of personal information.

  • Don't carry your Social Security card. Leave it in a secure place at home.

  • Make sure your Social Security number isn't used as an identification number and that it isn't printed on your driver's license or checks.

  • Obtain a credit report once a year from each of the three bureaus, Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. -- Credit bureaus may sell your personal information to marketing lists, so call 1-888-5-OPTOUT to stop pre-approved applications and other junk mail.

  • Divulge financial and personal data only when you initiate the call with an institution, and ignore e-mails or phone calls that claim to be from your bank or credit card company.

  • For online banking or bill payments, only use Web sites that are protected with a password or personal identification number. Review your accounts or paper statements regularly, being diligent even with idle credit cards.




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