Introduction: Identity theft costs billions of dollars to the US economy. For an individual person the average fraud amount is $5,720.00. Studies show that stolen identities can be bought for as little as $100 on the internet. The problem is real and it is happening to more and more people in the Asian community. Read on for my recommendations on what to do.
Question: Dear Mr. Cheng, recently I lost my wallet and do not know what to do. I heard that thieves use your information and try to get credit. Do you have any recommendations on what I can do protect myself? Sammy – Chinatown
Answer: Dear Sammy, before I begin to answer your question I want to go over some precautionary measures you can use to protect yourself from ID theft. 1. Credit card fraud is the most common type of identity theft. Therefore, it is important you look at your billing every month to see any unauthorized charges. Even small amounts can mean that someone has gotten your information. 2. Creatively protect your passwords. Regularly write down your passwords and keep them available to you. My recommendation is that you take the last two or three letters and put in front so that a person that gets your information will not know your real password. For example if you have passwords like happy1234 and monkey4321 write down your password and save them as 234happy1 and 321monkey4. I basically took the last three digits and put it in the beginning creating a password that never exists but one that I can understand. 3. Destroy evidence. Before you throw away any personal information shred it. Many thieves go through trash to information from you. 4. Be careful what you put in your wallet. Never carry or keep a copy of your social security number in your wallet. Also, do not keep any unnecessary credit or ID cards in your wallet. 5. Photocopy the back and front of all credit and ID cards. Having a copy of all information in a safe place allows you have information should your wallet or purse gets stolen. 6. Write down all credit cards companies’ information. When you lose your credit card you can immediately call up the company and alert them. 7. Never give out personal information on the phone. Many times thieves will call you and say that your account has been wrongfully accessed then ask you to verify your identity by giving the last four digits of your social security. 8. Protect your incoming mail. If you find that your mail has not come to you in two days, call the post office. Their number is 1-800-275-8777. 9. Protect your outgoing mail. If you are sending a payment never leave it in your mailbox, go to the post office and drop it off. 10. If you are going on vacation for more than 2-3 days, tell the post office to hold the mail for you. Thieves frequently find mailboxes overflowing with mail to get personal information. They then can call up the credit card company and try to impersonate you while you are away. 11. Pick 1 or 2 credit cards to use on vacation and suspend all others. After you pick 1 or 2 cards call the other credit cards and tell them you would like to suspend use. For the 1 or 2 cards you are using on vacation call those companies and tell them you will not be in the US, tell them where you will go and when you will come back. During that time, all companies will strictly monitor your usage and stop your cards if something occurs. 12. Fraud alerts. You can always call up all credit monitoring bureaus to place a free fraud alert verifications on your accounts. What that means is unless you personally authorize your credit to be given out, the credit card companies will not allow it. The three major credit companies are Equifax, Transunion, and Experian. Most companies will allow you to keep on placing these types of alerts on your account free of charge.
Now Sammy, let’s answer your question. If you believe you are the victim of identity theft or have lost your wallet do this. 1. Call all your bank and credit card companies within 3 hours of losing it. Even if you end up finding it, your actions will be beneficial if your information is ever used and companies dispute your sincerity. Tell the representative what time you thought you lost, where you believe you lost it and what you believe the last charges were. 2. Call the DMV. Tell them you have lost your driver’s license so that the information used will not be replicated. 3. File a police report. This helps adds validity to your story. Keep a copy of the report in case the credit card companies dispute charges on your bill. 4. If you lose your passport call up the US Department of State immediately at 1-877-487-2778 or your embassy if you are not a citizen of the US. 5. If your social security card is missing the office of the Inspector General at 1-800-269-0271. 6. Make sure you write down who you talk and what time to all numbers you call to report the lost information. 7. Never throw away the information related to this event. Fraud sometimes occurs many months or years after the fact.