Prevent Fraud: 10 Ways to Protect Your Identity

Tips on how to prevent identity theft, for you and your clients.

May 1, 2002

Identity theft is a growing crime, according to the Federal Trade Commission, and it can ruin your buyer's or seller's credit to the point of endangering future transactions.

Identity thieves take advantage of everyday transactions to steal your credit cards, social security numbers, Internet passwords. Or they might ferret out your personal and financial information from your telephone number or address. The most common form of identity theft is to use your information to open a new bank account, cellular phone service, or credit card account in your name, and write bad checks or spend to the limit of the new service without paying. The bad checks and unpaid bill go on your credit report. You don't notice anything's wrong until it's too late.

So what can you do? Prevent identity theft by being more careful with your personal information. Here are ten suggestions from online credit report and credit score resource, Iplace.com:

  1. Protect your social security number at all costs: do not keep your social security card in your wallet and make sure other types of identification cards you carry do not contain your social security number. If they do, get them changed immediately.
  2. Limit the number of cards you carry in your wallet. The more cards, the more exposure you have.
  3. Cancel credit cards you don't use (don't just cut them up), this will also improve your credit score.
  4. Shred your credit card statements and any garbage that contains personal information.
  5. If someone calls you up and asks for your social security number, do not give it to them and don't worry about being rude. Only give out your social security number if you initiated the call.
  6. Offers that are too good to be true often are. Don't ever apply for a credit card online from a pop-up window or an e-mail that was sent to you.
  7. For online purchasing, try to always use the same credit card. This limits your exposure.
  8. Always look for your credit card statements to arrive on time in the mail. If one does not arrive when it should, call the credit company and make sure someone did not change your address. Late statements are an early sign of identity theft.
  9. Review your credit card statements thoroughly. Small, illegal purchases (like gasoline fill-ups) can oftentimes be missed. If something is incorrect, call the credit card company immediately.
  10. Change your passwords regularly and do not rely on the month as a prefix or suffix. Your password should be a combination of letters and numbers that cannot easily be deciphered. If you need to write them down, do it in code.

The FTC and iPlace.com both recommend that you get a copy of your credit report from all three of the credit reporting bureaus once a year. Review each report to insure that your credit is reported accurately.

If you are representing a buyer or seller, it is also a good idea to get your clients to review their credit reports before they apply for a loan or start looking for a home to buy.

For more information on identify theft, or to report the theft of your identity, visit the Federal Trade Commission's Web site on identity theft or call the FTC Hotline at (877) ID THEFT.

(c) Copyright 2002 Realty Times. Reprinted with permission.

Blanche Evans is a writer/editor and CEO of evansEmedia. Formerly, she was a senior editor with Realty Times, where she was named by REALTOR® Magazine as one of the most influential people in the real estate industry.

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