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American Homeowners Association



Keeping Your Identity and Credit Safe

There are people out there who are experts at taking someone else's identity. They steal it from your social security number, your bank account, or even by appropriating one of your credit card numbers. And it happens every day.

The problem is that anytime someone messes with your identity, they also mess with your credit. That is the whole reason they are tapping into you, for your money.

This crime is fairly easy to commit and difficult to catch. But there are some preventative steps you can take to protect yourself. The Better Business Bureau and Federal Trade Commission recommend you do the following to minimize your risk:

  • Before sharing any personal information, be sure you know how it is going to be used and whether it will be shared with anyone else.

  • Pay attention to your bills. If a bill doesn't show up when it usually does, call your creditor immediately.

  • Carry only the number of credit cards you need. Store extra ones at home in a safe place.

  • Keep items with personal information in a safe place.

  • Make sure you tear up junk mail and trash that may contain personal information, this is particularly true of any offers for credit cards or loans.

  • Always post your mail in a secure post office box that can't be tampered with.

  • Don't carry your SSN card with you and give out your number on when absolutely necessary. There is no easier way to track someone or find out personal information than from the SSN.

  • Order a copy of your credit report from a major reporting agency to check your credit every year. This will alert you to problems.

The most common ways to lose your identity is through theft. Here are some of the ways thieves can gain access to your data:

  • Stealing your wallet or purse is easiest.

  • Stealing your mail, including credit card statements and bank statements.

  • Buying your personal information from "inside" informants, say from your work or from a waiter at your favorite restaurant.

  • Taking information about you from the Internet. There are entire sites set up to gain personal information. They are often featured as private investigation resources.

  • Fraudulently getting your credit report by posing as a landlord or employer.

If you do fall victim to identity theft, take immediate action to stop access. Cancel your credit cards. Call your bank. Report it to the police. Contact the fraud unit of the three credit reporting agencies and request that a "fraud alert" be placed in your file as well as a request to call you if there is any new activity in your accounts, i.e. asking for new accounts or changing existing ones.

Always take these actions by phone with a follow-up letter. You will ultimately want your anti-identity theft actions in your file in writing to protect yourself down the line.

Source: The Federal Trade Commission and the Better Business Bureau

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