Sunday, May 02, 2010

Avoiding Identity Theft (Know what YOU can do)

Recently, I've been hearing complaints from my aunts and uncles about their credit cards suddenly getting frozen or cut because of what the credit card companies call as "unusual activity". They are a bit old and it's very much of a hassle for them to keep calling the bank and ask why it happened and how they get reconnected. As a result, they end up blaming the bank. I really don't think it's the bank's fault. So I decided to make my own research to explain to them what really happened and found out that these were cases of identity theft. I continued my research to find out and inform them of how to avoid such incidents. In my search, I found this press release from Affinion that gave me the best solution to their problem.

This information is taken from the press release entitled "Taxes and Personal Data: 5 Ways to Avoid Identity Theft". To find their release, click here.


Here are five tips to keep in mind:
 
1. Be proactive


Check your credit card and bank statements at least monthly for unusual activity. You should do this regularly, not just when you’ve had a problem. Surprisingly, most people don’t.
It’s very important to catch problems quickly. A thief abusing your account will frequently make a charge, then wait to see if it goes through unchecked. If it does, he’ll strike again to get as much out of the account as possible before he’s stopped.
Many banks have programs to notify customers of unusual credit card activity and frequently freeze an account until they figure out whether a charge is legitimate. You may want to check on your card provider’s policies.
 
2. Know what’s in your credit report


Check your credit report at the three credit reporting agencies — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. You are allowed to check each once a year for free. Go to www.annualcreditreport.com for the government-authorized free reports. Look for any credit accounts you didn’t open, a sure sign someone has stolen your identity and is opening credit lines in your name. A good proactive practice is to check one of the agencies every four months to help catch any major changes throughout the year.
If you believe your identity has been stolen, place a fraud alert on your credit file by calling the credit reporting agencies, said Tom Rusin, CEO of Affinion Security Center, a Norwalk, Conn.-based identity protection and data security company. In the case of identity theft, this prevents anyone from opening a new account until you are called and authorize it. A fraud alert stays on your credit file for 90 days and it carries no cost.
It can cause delays in obtaining credit since you must be contacted by telephone before any new accounts are approved.
The Federal Trade Commission offers phone numbers and addresses for each of the credit agencies and step-by-step instructions at http://tinyurl.com/3ckxvc.
 
3. Get secure


Maintain an updated computer security program which includes firewall, virus and spyware software. Computers typically come with some protection, but the effectiveness of these and other free programs is debated among computer technicians. Several software products are offered by companies such as Symantec Corp., McAfee Inc. and Trend Micro Inc. They typically range from $30 to $80 and must be renewed each year.
With high-speed Internet connections frequently left on most of the time, an unsecured computer can become a gateway to data theft.
Many consumers also have wireless connections at home so they can use laptops or handheld devices without cables. Make sure any home network is password protected so anyone nearby cannot access that connection. It’s one way thieves can attach keystroke capture devices to your system and learn your passwords. The instructions that came with your wireless router should help walk you through the process.
 
4. Password protect yourself


Change the passwords on your online accounts. That means bank accounts and any others that have links to credit information or account numbers. It might mean changing e-mail passwords, too. Passwords should include numbers and capital letters. Do not make them the name of your pet, your mother’s maiden name or some other bit of information about you that’s easy to find. It’s wise not to use the same password for every account and to get in the habit of changing them periodically.
Also, change the PIN on your accounts, especially a debit card.
 
5. Use cards carefully


Remember that a credit card uses the banks money, a debit card uses your money. It’s wise to limit the use of a debit card, especially when it comes to online purchases. If a thief steals a debit card, he’s getting your money out of your bank account. It’s more difficult to get your money back once it’s gone.
For credit cards, federal law establishes your maximum liability for unauthorized charges at $50 per card. You must notify the card issuer of the charge within 60 days after the first bill showing the charge. The bank must acknowledge your complaint within 30 days if it’s not resolved before that. The money should be credited back within two billing cycles.
For debit or ATM cards, you could have to absorb more of the loss if you don’t report it within two days. However, Visa and MasterCard voluntarily limit your liability to $50 even if it’s not reported right away.
It’s a good practice to use one credit card for all online purchases, booking hotel rooms and buying airline tickets, said Linda Foley, co-founder of the Identity Theft Resource Center. Anytime you’re not physically standing in front of a clerk swiping your card, use the same card. That way only one credit card is at risk.
If an unauthorized charge shows up, don’t panic. If it’s just one card affected, you’ll likely be fine once the bank closes down the old account and issues a new card. Remember, if you have any charges automatically taken out each month on the old card, transfer that over to the new account.

Nathaniel Lipman is the current President, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of the Affinion Group. Through Nathaniel Lipman's leadership, the Affinion Group has grown to be the world's leader in membership services, insurance providers, loyalty programs, value-added checking programs, and security services.

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