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Identity Theft

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Identity Theft is such a major problem these days, it deserves its own section here on the web site. tips and advice include what to do if you become a victime of identity theft, how to prevent identity theft, and how to contact the three credit reporting agencies - Experian, Equifax and TransUnion to help correct credit errors.  There are also steps to take with Experian, Equifax and TransUnion in case you are a victim of identity theft.

THE IMPORTANCE OF PASSWORDS, HOW MANY DO YOU HAVE?

Update October 24, 2011  Your passwords are vital to stop online theft, ATM crimes, credit card fraud, and banking fraud.  So how many passwords do you have?  You should have lots of them and each account should have its own unique password so a crook who steals one password won't be able to tap into more than one account.

Many companies now want you to choose a password with upper and lower case letters and numerals and even symbols, so you might have a password that looks like this: D0lL4r$ which is a variation of the simple password "dollars" by substituting a zero for the letter "O" and the number 4 for the letter "A" and a dollar sign substitutes for the letter "S."

Want something easier but also unique and hard to crack?  Use an old phone number -- not your own phone number, but someone's else's phone number.  Perhaps the phone number of your old fraternity or the first place where you worked.  For example, you might use this phone number with the parentheses and hyphen as a password: (201) JK5-5555.  And if that's someone's phone number, I'm sorry I just picked it out of thin air.  Go way back to pick your old phone number-- go back to the days when they used "exchanges" such as NA3 for "Nanuet 3" or EL6 for "Elmwood 6."

There are passwords you definitely should not use including the word "password" or your birth date, or your social security number or even parts of your social security number.  Don't use first names of anyone in your family, and don't use passwords that might arouse suspicions of the authorities such as "CriminalAccount."

MONITORING YOUR CREDIT REPORTS, DO IT FOR FREE 

Update November 26, 2010   The new tough-to-get and tight credit poliicies now in place at banks and credit card companies is hitting the crooks just as it is hitting honest citizens.  But even though the banks and credit card companies are looking at all credit applications more carefully now, don't let your guard down.  You should still get a free credit report once a year from www.annualcreditreport.com which was set up by the Federal government to allow consumers to see what is going on with their credit files.  You can check the credit files of the three big credit reporting companies for free once each year, but a better idea is to check one credit file from one of the three every three months.  If a problem shows up on one credit report, then contact the others.

Here are some tips from the Federal Trade Commission and from consumer advocates for dealing with identity theft. 

First you should report any incident of identity theft as soon as possible and keep track of everyone you talk to and report your theft to.  Keep dates and times and names. 

Then put a fraud alert on your credit files.  Actually, you can put a fraud alert on your credit files even before your identity is stolen.  Fraud alerts help prevent an identity thief from opening any more accounts in your name. Contact the toll-free fraud number of any of the three consumer reporting companies below-- Experian, Equifax or TransUnion, to place a fraud alert on your credit report. You only need to contact one of the three companies to place an alert. The company you call is required to contact the other two, which will place an alert on their versions of your report, too.

TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289; www.transunion.com; Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834-6790

Equifax: 1-800-525-6285; www.equifax.com; P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241

Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742); www.experian.com; P.O. Box 9532, Allen, TX 75013

Once you place the fraud alert in your file, you're entitled to order one free copy of your credit report from each of the three consumer reporting companies, and, if you ask, only the last four digits of your Social Security number will appear on your credit reports.  Once you get your credit reports, review them carefully.  Look for inquiries from companies you haven't contacted, accounts you didn't open, and debts on your accounts that you can't explain.  Check that information, like your Social Security number, address(es), name or initials, and employers are correct. If you find fraudulent or inaccurate information, get it removed by contacting the credit reporting companies and explaining to them in writing why these are not your doing-- and may be the work of an identity thief.

Continue to check your credit reports periodically, especially for the first year after you discover the identity theft, to make sure no new fraudulent activity has occurred.

Next, be sure you close any accounts that the thief opened or tampered with.  Call and speak with someone in the security or fraud department of each company.  Follow up in writing, and include copies (NOT originals) of supporting documents.  It's important to notify credit card companies and banks in writing.  They may ask for a copy of the police report you filed about your identity theft.  Send your letters by certified mail, return receipt requested, so you can document what the company received and when.  Keep a file of your correspondence and enclosures.

When you open new accounts, use new Personal Identification Numbers (PINs) and passwords.  Avoid using easily available information like your mother's maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your Social Security number or your phone number, or a series of consecutive numbers. I know this can be difficult, but try to avoid using the same password or PIN for different accounts.  If a crook can get a hold of one PIN he will have access to all of the accounts using that PIN or password.  Yes, I know that it is difficult to have many different passwords or PINs in this day and age when so many accounts call for a password or PIN.

If the identity thief has made charges or debits on your accounts, or has fraudulently opened accounts, ask the company for the forms to dispute those transactions:

Once you have resolved your identity theft dispute with the company, ask for a letter stating that the company has closed the disputed accounts and has discharged the fraudulent debts. This letter is your best proof if errors relating to this account reappear on your credit report or you are contacted again about the fraudulent debt.

You should also file a report or complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.  You can file a complaint with the FTC by calling the FTC's Identity Theft Hotline, toll-free: 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338); TTY: 1-866-653-4261; or write Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20580.  Be sure to call the Hotline to update your complaint if you have any additional information or problems.

Earlier in this report I told you about filing a police report.  Yes, you should file a police report.  Call your local police department and tell them that you want to file a report about your identity theft.   Ask them if you can file the report in person.  If the police are reluctant to take your report, ask to file a "Miscellaneous Incident" report, or try another jurisdiction, like your state police.

Here on our new media website "Moneyman" Alan Mendelson who is the original Best Deals TV Show reporter on KCAL9 and consumer advocate, shows you the best deals on TV, and the best buys, bargains and where savvy shoppers go to save, and how to get the most for "your money" with the best of Los Angeles, Orange County, Ventura County, Riverside County and San Bernardino County.  Our Best Buys TV Show has the best TV deals and is the only regularly scheduled weekly best deals TV show in Southern California.  We show you the best buys and best deals on TV and more deals and bargains on www.alanbestbuys.com and www.bestbuystvshow.com and watch for our Las Vegas TV show Vegas Best Buys.  Some of the content can come from paid advertising and from our advertiser paid TV infomercial programs.  The Best Buys TV Show is a paid infomercial program which may also include news and information which is not sponsored or paid for by advertisers.  AlanBestBuys.com has the highest ranking among competitive sites in Southern California according to the independent website ranking companies Alexa.com and Quantcast.com and our Best Buys TV Show is the most watched shopping and consumer information show in Southern California.

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