According to the Federal Trade Commission, over half a million Americans will have their identities stolen each year.  The most common types of identity theft are:

• Using or opening a credit card account fraudulently

• Opening cell phone or utility accounts fraudulently

• Passing bad checks or opening a new bank account

• Getting loans in another person’s name

Victims spend on average 175 hours and $800.00 to clear their names.

Tips on How to Avoid Identity Theft

• Completely review your credit card and bank account statements and make sure you are receiving them regularly. If anyone is trying to steal your identity, they need to get possession of your documents. Thieves do this by calling your bank and changing the address on your account(s). If bank or credit card documents are late, immediately call your creditors to confirm your information has been sent to your home address and ask for copies. Purchase an inexpensive paper shredder and shred these copies when you are finished with them.

• Do not give out personal information to anyone you do not know. Professional thieves can pose as bankers or government agents in order to steal your information.• Do not leave any important documents in your mailbox. Thieves will take outgoing payments and correspondence from your mailbox and collect the information for their use. Deposit your letters directly into an official mailbox.

• Shred any credit card offers or pre-approved loan offers. Thieves will go through your trash to find these documents and activate these accounts.

• Your social security number is the key to your identity. Do not carry it around in your handbag or wallet. Keep a minimal number of ID cards and credit cards in your possession. Keep them at home in a safe place and bring them with you when you need them.  The following toll-free number, 1-888-567-8688 or 1-888-5OPTOUT, is a phone service run by the nation’s credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Consumers may call this number and ask to be removed from mailing lists for unsolicited credit cards or so-called pre-approved loan offers.

Marketing Databases

If you would like to remove your name from mail and telephone marketing databases, write a letter to both Direct Marketing Association locations below and request your name be removed from these lists.

Direct Marketing Association

Mail Preference Service

P.O. Box 9008

Farmingdale, NY 11735-9008

Telephone Preference Service

P.O. Box 9014

Farmingdale, NY 11735-9014

Safeguard Your Computer

These days thieves do not even have to come in contact with you to steal your identity. They can do it by hacking into your computer. If you are connected to the Internet, you need the protection of a firewall and a secure browser. Be careful not to open spam e-mails that may contain “worms” that let cyber thieves monitor your Internet transactions. When you upgrade your computer, do not dispose of the old one without using a “wipe” utility program to erase the entire hard drive. Just deleting files does not make them unrecoverable to a clever techno thief.

What to Do if You are a Victim

If you think your identity is being used, you must immediately contact all of the three major credit bureaus and the Federal Trade Commission. These bureaus have fraud centers that will request you follow certain procedures and forward copies of certain documents to them. Follow the procedures they have in place and make sure you ask them to place a “fraud alert” on your file. Here is the contact information for each major credit bureau:

Equifax: To order your credit report call: 1-800-685-1111 or write: P.O. Box 740241, Alanta, GA 30374-0241. To report fraud call: 1-800-525-6285 and write to the same address.

Experian: To order your report call: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742) or write: P.O. Box 2104, Allen, TX 75013 To report fraud call same number and write: P.O. Box 9532, Allen, TX 75013

TransUnion: To order your report call: 1-800-916-8800 or write: P.O. Box 1000, Chester, PA 19022. To report fraud call: 1-800-680-7289 and write: Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834-6790

Federal Trade Commission: Identity Theft Hotline: toll free 1-877-IDTHEFT or write: Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20580.

Cases of stolen identity happen to real people every day. Protect your identity and your good name.

DMCC is a 501 (c)3 nonprofit organization committed to educating consumers on financial issues and providing personal assistance to consumers who have become overextended with debt.  Education is provided free of charge to consumers, as well as personal counseling to identify the best options for the repayment of their debt. To speak to a certified credit counselor, call toll-free 866-618-3328 or DMCC is located at 3310 N. Federal Highway, Lighthouse Point, FL 33064.