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Identity theft is the fastest growing white-collar crime, impacting an estimated 10 million Americans. It can affect anyone and anywhere. This occurs when an individual uses or sells your personal information without your consent, such as your social security number, address, birth date, or mother's maiden name, and commits fraud to open new charge cards, make unauthorized purchases or borrow money. Sharing ones information has become a matter of routine, but we need to change this way of thinking to limit our exposure to any risks.


Keep Control of Your Debit/ATM Cards

  • Mail contains lots of your personal information, data and credit card offers.
  • Ask your credit card companies to stop mailing blank checks. You can always request them to be sent, if needed.
  • Keep track of your expiration dates on credit cards. If the replacement does not arrive, contact the issuing company immediately.
  • Avoid having your mail delivered to an unsecured place. Consider options such as a locked mailbox, postal box or a mail slot in the front door to have the mail drop in your vestibule.
  • Never leave your mail in the mailbox overnight or over the weekend.
  • Use a paper shredder (cross-cut and confetti-cut are recommended) to destroy documents going in the trash that contain your personal information on mailing labels, bills, checks, credit card offers and junk mail. Identity thieves pick through your trash and recycling bins.

Mail Exposure

  • Debit cards carry greater personal liability than credit cards.
  • Report lost or stolen cards immediately.
  • Whenever possible swipe your own card.
  • Do not let the card out of your sight during a transaction.
  • Never share your debit/ATM PIN with anyone! Memorize your PIN and do not carry it in your wallet.
  • Beware of fraudulent telemarketers that offer free prizes, credit cards and then ask if you have a checking account. Do not share your checking account information or account number.

You must report unauthorized activity within 60 days of receipt of your bank statement or you may lose all of the funds in your account and be responsible for amounts up to your line of credit, if applicable.


Going Virtual

E-mail and online processes are wonderful conveniences. However, when you send information it is like sending a postcard. There may be other unintended viewers of this information. Consider these safeguards.

  • Use a secure browser and safety software programs that protect your privacy while online. You control when and to whom your personal information is shared. Look for the "lock" icon on the bottom strip of the browser status bar to be sure that your personal information is secure when purchasing online. Another sign of a secure site is when the URL address for the web page changes from "http" to "https" for the page at which you input the personal data.
  • Use passwords to protect your accounts. Try to use a less obvious password; avoid using your name, birth date, last four digits of your social security number and other easily available information. Change your passwords from time to time in case someone has discovered your password. Do not keep your passwords in a predictable place near your computer or desk.
  • Watch for phishing scams. It usually comes in the form of an e-mail or pop-up message that asks you to update, validate or confirm information. Beware of responding to these types of messages (even if it is a company you know) and even clicking on the link provided. Legitimate companies do not ask for personal or financial information via e-mail.
  • Consider using e-mail cryptography software to scramble your messages in a private code to make them more secure.
  • Virtual credit cards can be issued by your credit card company to authorize a one time online charge to your credit card account. It is disposable; use it once and throw it away. Verify that the Internet service provider operates in a secure environment.

If Your Identity is Stolen

If you are the victim of identity theft, the Federal Trade Commission recommends that you take control using these four action steps.

  1. Place a fraud alert on your credit reports and review a copy of your reports. You need only contact one of the three nationwide credit reporting companies (Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion) to place an alert. The company you call is required to contact the other two. Read over your credit report carefully and have any inaccurate or fraudulent information disputed and removed. Continue to recheck your credit report periodically.
  2. Close the accounts that you know, or believe, have been tampered with or opened fraudulently. Call and speak with someone in the security or fraud department of the company that holds the account. Follow up in writing, and include copies (NOT originals) of supporting documents, and send it certified mail. Dispute any charges or debits to the account that you did not authorize. After any disputes have been resolved, ask for a letter from the company stating that the company has closed the disputed accounts and has discharged the fraudulent debts. Keep this letter. It will help if errors relating to this account reappear on your credit report or you are contacted again about the fraudulent debt.
  3. File a report with your local police or the police in the community where the identity theft took place. Identity theft is a serious crime and the authorities are required to take your report. A copy of this report, or often just the number of the report, will be needed to supply to your creditors as proof of the crime.
  4. File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. This will provide important information that can help law enforcement officials across the nation track down identity thieves and stop them. The FTC can refer victims complaints to other government agencies and companies for violations of trade laws. Also, the FTC has an ID Theft Affidavit form available for you to complete and provide to your creditors and the credit reporting companies.

File a complaint online at www.consumer.gov/idtheft, by phone at 1-877-IDTHEFT (438-4338); TTY: 1-866-653-4261, or by mail: Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20580. Visit the FTC's website at www.ftc.gov.

 
 
IN CASE OF EMERGENCY
 
Create an emergency identity kit to be kept in a secured place. Include a copy of your social security card, birth certificate, passport, drivers license and a list of information about all your credit cards (account number, expiration, issuing company, address and toll-free number).

 

  
 

FAMILY EDUCATION RIGHTS AND PRIVACY ACT (FERPA)

The use of your personal information collected while in college is protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) of 1974, as amended. FERPA addresses the privacy of student education records and the obligations of the institution, primarily in the areas of release of the records and the access provided to these records. The law applies to all schools that receive funds under an applicable program of the U.S. Department of Education.

According to FERPA, college students must be permitted to inspect their own education records. Personally identifiable information in an education record may not be released without prior written consent from the student. Even parents are not permitted access to their son's or daughter's education records without this written consent. Any questions pertaining to FERPA can be answered by the financial aid office.

  
 
 
PROTECT YOUR PRIVACY
 
  • Avoid sharing your personal information, especially your social security number. And when you do, ask how it will be used. Select the "opt-out" choice to cut down on the number of unsolicited telemarketing calls, promotional mailings and spam e-mails you receive.
  • Reduce telemarketing calls at home with a free registration to the National Do Not Call Registry at www.donotcall.gov or call 1-888-382-1222 from the telephone you want to register.
  • Read companies privacy policies to ensure that your data will be held in trust and used only in ways that you have authorized, including no selling or sharing of your personal information with any third parties without your consent. There may be "opt-out" instructions to follow.
  • Review your credit report from each of the three major credit reporting companies every year to ensure that they are accurate and reflect only those activities you have authorized. Social security numbers and telephone numbers should not be printed or hand written on your checks.
  • For Caller ID, you can automatically block your telephone number from being transmitted on every call through your phone company. Another option is to selectively block your telephone number for a specific call by using *67.
  • Avoid entering sweepstakes, contests and free offers if you want to stay off mailing and telemarketing lists aimed at opportunity seekers.

 

  
 

TEST YOUR KNOWLEDGE

How many days does a creditor have to acknowledge your written complaint about a billing error?

   
A.  30 days
B.  60 days
C.  90 days
D.  12 days
 

Answer: A

  
     
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