Protection Against Identity Theft

This isn’t ETF news, but it is related to personal finance and another one of my areas of extreme interest: identity theft and privacy of personal information. Just got an email from my lawyer recommending people follow these ideas.

We’ve all heard horror stories about fraud committed after the theft of a name, address, credit cards or social security number. Once a thief has these numbers it’s easy for him to apply for new credit cards, get a cell phone service contract and cause other trouble that will cost your many hours and dollars to fix. I’ve been following most for a while, but it’s nice to have them written down all in one place.

1. Do not sign the back of your credit cards. Instead, put “PHOTO ID REQUIRED.”

2. When writing checks to pay on 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. Anyone else handling your check as it passes through the processing channels won’t have access to it.

3. NEVER, EVER, have your social security number printed on your personal checks.

4. If you have a post office box, use that as the address on the check. Some people say put your work address and phone number on the check. I say don’t put any phone number on the check. You can always add information with a pen if you have to, and most times you are not required to give it. But if you have information printed, anyone can get it.

5. We’ve been told we should cancel stolen credit cards immediately. But the key is having the card numbers handy and the companies’ toll free numbers so you know whom to call. Keep those where you can find them. Copy the contents of your wallet on a photocopy machine. Do both sides of each license, credit card, etc. If you lose the wallet, you will know what you had in it, all of the account numbers and the phone numbers to call and cancel. Keep the photocopy in a safe place.

6. Carry a photocopy of your passport when you travel.

7. If your wallet or credit cards are stolen, file a police report immediately in the jurisdiction where it occured. This proves to credit providers you were diligent and is the first step toward an investigation.

8. The most important thing to do immediately after the theft of a credit card or Social Security number is to call the three national credit reporting organizations to place a fraud alert on your name. Also call the Social Security fraud line number. 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.

Here are the numbers of the three credit agencies. Contact them immediately if you have been the victim of a theft. Also, you are entitled to one free credit report a year from each of them so that you can make sure nothing funny has occurred in your files and to correct any incorrect information. You don’t need to use That actually will cost you money.

1.) Equifax: 1-800-525-6285
2.) Experian (formerly TRW): 1-888-397-3742
3.) Trans Union: 1-800-680 7289
4.) Social Security Administration (fraud line): 1-800-269-0271


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