Friday, July 28, 2006

Ensure Smooth Transaction by Protecting Your Credit Identity

He has struck again. As some of you know, an identity thief hit me about three years ago and opened several cell phone accounts in my name. Like many consumers who have been victimized by this ever-growing crime, I didn't know anything about it until I was denied credit with a cell phone company who asked why I needed another cell phone when I already had five open with them. Oh, by the way, you owe us $1,200.

It took a few days to clear up that episode and about a year later, the ID Thief struck again. I was ready that time with alerts set up on my credit reports, requiring any issuer of credit to call my home phone first before approving. That's what happened and we thwarted the attack.

Then last week hit.

Before I go into Part Three of this credit story, let me just reiterate the importance of protecting your credit, first of all, from your own misuse -- too much debt, missing payments, etc. -- but also from those in our society who would lift your identity and mangle your credit as easily as pick up a piece of candy at the corner drug store.

For a detailed step-by-step approach to understanding how ID theft happens and what you can do to protect yourself, let me refer you to the Federal Trade Commission's webpage on this crime.

Here, you'll find a complete guide on how ID Theft happens, and also what to do if you find yourself the victim of ID Theft, including worksheets, phone numbers of the credit bureaus, etc.
For most home purchasers, without good credit, you can't buy a parking spot, much less the home of your dreams. Don't wait until your mortgage application to see if you are who you think you are. The home purchase process is fast paced -- taking weeks, not months to complete. If you wait until you make application to ensure you have clean credit, you may find yourself with an identity mess that takes too long to remedy.

Is it a large problem? The National Criminal Justice Reference Service reported that in 2004, 3.6 million households, representing 3 percent of the households in the United States, discovered that at least one member of the household had been the victim of identity theft during the previous six months. Two-thirds of those households lost money due to the theft at an average loss of $1,290.

This problem's not going away. And as I found, it will probably follow me the rest of my life. In talking these issues over with a fraud representative from one of my credit card companies, he said, "Once you take care of it, they'll stop for a while, then just wait. About a year later, you'll start seeing credit issues again." And that's about how long it took.

What I have found is frightening. Our Social Security numbers area handed around between corporations like a cheap date's phone number. My particular bandit now has my number (where from I have no idea). He had one of my credit cards in his hands that my credit card company had provided him when he convinced them that he was me. Fortunately, the company has a system set up where they notify me by email whenever a change is requested by me. If it's not me -- please call. I did and they cancelled the card.

Here are some items I've been seeing continuing to happen across the credit arena that should change -- if not by corporate self-policing, then by legal edict. Until they do, we consumers are pretty much on our own to protect ourselves.

Medical insurance providers continue to use our SSNs on their member identification cards.
Twice this week, when the credit departments of both Sprint/Nextel and Cingular called me to verify I was requesting more phones, they asked me to "verify" my SSN with them to make sure I was who I said I was.

(Never give your social security number to anyone who has called you. I reprimanded the callers and talked with their managers. Will this change, who knows? Spring/Nextel, Cingular -- wake up, dudes, the credit coffee is spilling over.)

Payroll departments printing your SSN number on your pay stub.

Merchants who have still not converted over to the receipt system that blanks out your credit card number on the stub except for the last four digits.

Companies/agencies/organizations continuing to use the SSN as an identifier. (I gave blood recently and they wanted my SSN. Why? They didn't know, it was just on the form.)

As you invest in real estate, your credit becomes a pivotal part of the plan. Without it protected, you'll not only have credit headaches, you'll be limited in how you can grow your personal wealth. Take notice and take action.

Published: July 14, 2006

1 comment:

shannon said...

Just yesterday, I was required by my cable company to set up a "4-digit PIN" because they wouldn't be verifying my account with my social security number any more for "security purposes."

And last week, rather than verifying my identity/account ownership with the last 4 of my SSN, Sprint/Nextel made me set up a "passcode."

credit card processing fraud is so prevalent now, and I'm not sure that these little measures that the merchants are taking to try and protect us are going to help. usually it is the consumer that makes the fatal error that allows theives to get our information.

sadly, most credit card thieves will never be caught.

thanks for the good post!!