RISMEDIA, Dec. 7, 2007-With the holiday season in full swing, millions of Americans are hitting the malls and shopping online to find the perfect gift for every family member. However, in the confusion and bustle of the season, it’s easy to let your guard down, which is why the winter holiday season is one of the prime times for identity theft to occur.
Every year, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), almost 10 million Americans are victims of some sort of identity theft, and experts suggest that identify theft increases during the winter holiday season, when there are a greater number of opportunities for theft to occur. Surprisingly, the majority of cases do not result in out-of-pocket expenses for victims-what most victims lose is time and their sense of personal security.
“Clearing your name after an identity theft can be a very complicated and disruptive process,” said Mark LaPenta, chief technology officer of MetLife Bank.
“There are a lot of people to notify, including creditors, credit bureaus, and law enforcement. It can take months-or possibly years-before you get your life back in order, and clear your name. Fortunately, there are steps that can be taken to avoid becoming a victim in the first place, and also services that can help you restore your name should you become a victim.”
To reduce the likelihood of being a victim of identity theft:
– Be careful with your social security number, which is one of the most valuable pieces of information that you have to “prove” who you are. Avoid carrying your social security card in your wallet, and don’t print the number on personal checks.
– Only release your social security number when it’s absolutely necessary, such as when required by a government agency (e.g., the Department of Motor Vehicles or Social Services).
– If a merchant asks for your social security number, ask why it’s necessary, and what safeguards they have in place to protect your information. Although there are instances where it is necessary to have this information (such as, in order to extend credit), you should feel confident with the safeguards that are in place to protect your privacy.
– Minimize the number of credit cards you have, and only carry one or two in your wallet. It’s a good idea to keep a list of all your credit cards, bank accounts, and investments in a safe place.
– Never leave envelopes containing bills and checks in places where there’s a danger of their being stolen. Consider mailing your bills at the post office, rather than leaving them for your letter carrier at your front door or mailbox.
– Think about computer safety-never use obvious or easily guessed passwords or PINs, and always create passwords that combine letters and numbers.
– Be wary of “phishing” schemes. Phishing is a type of fraud that usually starts as an e-mail or pop-up designed to trick you into revealing personal financial details. Never reply to e-mails asking for personal details, or even click on links in e-mails that appear suspicious.
– Be careful what you throw away! Trash is a prime target for identity thieves, so take the time to shred all paperwork containing sensitive information, including pre-approved credit offers. The most secure shredders are “cross cut” shredders, because they ensure that the documents cannot be reassembled.
– Carefully review financial statements each month for unauthorized use, including your credit cards, bank statements, and phone bills. Alert your creditors immediately, in the event that you notice a discrepancy.
– Do a “check up” on your credit history once every year. Securing this information is easy-simply visit www.annualcreditreport.com or call 877-322-8228. You’ll be able to get one free credit report each year from each of the three major credit bureaus.
– Another important consideration: determine whether you have protection in the event that you are victimized. Many credit card companies offer protection against identity theft, so ask your credit card agent or company representative if yours does. In addition, a few banking institutions now offer the convenience of identity theft resolution services. This assistance can prove invaluable, because it can help guide victims through the arduous process of reclaiming their good names.
“Having professional assistance to help restore your good name can provide you with greater peace of mind, as well as lessen the time that it will take to resolve the problem.” said LaPenta. “This expert will work with you, to make certain that all the appropriate steps are taken, including notifying the appropriate authorities, tracking and monitoring credit files, and working with grantors of credit until the situation is resolved.”
For more information, visit www.metlifebank.com, and select “Security Center.”