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Identity Theft Protection

Identity theft is a growing profession in the U.S. today – and it’s expected to keep growing in response to the faltering economy. For some, stealing someone else’s identity and using their credit is far preferable to honest labor.

No one is immune from identity theft, because our information is in computer data bases around the nation – and thus around the world. Every few months we get a new report of some major database being compromised – or some employee losing a laptop computer filled with client data. One of the most extensive was the loss of Veteran’s Administration data.

The proliferation of social networking sites has compounded the problem – giving identity thieves easy access to information such as our birth date, name of a spouse, occupation, and more.

So has the rise of “file sharing.” The software you download to share things like music and videos also can allow thieves access to all the other data on your computer. For instance, your banking records and your income tax report. Right now there are more than 200 different file sharing services – and many of them leave your computer wide open to theft.

Consumers can take steps to protect themselves – such as avoiding file sharing software and being careful about information posted in on line profiles - but perhaps the most important thing we can all do is to keep a close watch on our credit reports.

When an identity thief begins using your credit, it will show up in your credit report. It could be a change of address, an incorrect name for your spouse, or charges on a credit card that you have left inactive. It could even be a new employer or a new account at a store where you’ve never shopped or in a city where you’ve never visited.

By signing up for a service that watches your credit report and informs you of new activity, you can nip identity theft in the bud.

If you suspect you could soon be a victim of identity theft – because you’ve lost a wallet, for instance – you can place a “Fraud alert” on your credit file. This requires creditors to make a good faith attempt to make sure “you are you” before extending credit. This is often done by calling you at the number you place in your credit file beside the alert. You can place a fraud alert at no charge, and they are good for 90 days.

You can also put a credit freeze on your file. This prevents anyone (even you) from accessing your credit report until the freeze is lifted. At present, the fee to freeze or unfreeze your account is $10 – paid to each of the credit bureaus. Thus, freezing your account costs $30 and unfreezing it costs $30.

A credit freeze is a good tool for consumers who do not expect to need any new credit in the foreseeable future. An identity thief can still use accounts you have open, but will be prevented from opening new accounts in your name, gaining employment in your name, or renting a house in your name.

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