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Knowledge is Power in the Fight against Identity Theft

(ARA) – In the movie Firewall, Harrison Ford plays Jack Stanfield, a bank security officer who is forced to carry out a crime he would never commit once his identity is stolen and his family is put in grave danger. This movie, which opens February 10 nationwide, demonstrates that identity theft can happen to even the most security-savvy individual, and we must all take necessary steps to protect ourselves.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, 58 million consumers experienced unauthorized access to their personal information in 2005. In this era of data breaches, phishing, and dumpster diving, consumers must become their own advocates and develop a personal data protection plan to secure one of their most valuable assets – their identities.

The serious crime of identity theft can have far-reaching consequences and hinder the victims’ ability to secure credit, insurance, housing and even a job. The following steps can help you develop an action plan to protect yourself from identity theft.

Know the Enemy

Learn more about how fraudsters commit identity theft in both the online and offline world. Understanding their methods will help you identify areas where you may be vulnerable and alert you to signals that might indicate that your identity has been stolen. Many excellent educational resources exist including the Federal Trade Commission Web site at www.consumer.gov/idtheft/ and the Equifax Identity Theft Protection Kit at www.equifax.com/idtheftprotectionkit/idtheftprotectionkit.pdf. These materials define identity theft, as well as discuss ways to defend against it and how to respond if it happens.

Take Defensive Steps

Identify specific steps to take to protect your personal data. A few examples include:

  • Shred pre-approved credit card offers and other mail displaying your name and personal information before throwing them in the trash.
  • Store sensitive account information (e.g., bank accounts, credit card accounts) in a secure location.
  • Protect your online information by keeping virus protection updated and using a firewall.

If you currently are not taking any protective measures, start now before you become a victim. You are probably taking some precautions today; resolve to take more steps to keep your identity as safe as possible.

Watch for Evidence

Unfortunately, identity theft is not entirely preventable. Pay attention to billing cycles; a missing bill could mean an identity thief may have taken over your credit card account and changed your billing address. Credit monitoring services such as Equifax Credit Watch can serve as an early warning system to alert you to potentially fraudulent activities. Equifax offers Equifax Credit Watch Gold with 3-in-1 Monitoring, which notifies you of key changes to your credit file from all three nationwide credit reporting companies. With wireless alerts available via cellular phone and round-the-clock dedicated customer care, this service is a convenient way to stay informed about your credit health.

Act Quickly

Victims who respond to identity theft quickly can reduce time and money spent on recovery. If you discover you have been a victim of identity theft, contact one of the three credit reporting companies – Equifax, Experian or TransUnion – and place a fraud alert on your file. The company you contacted will inform the other two firms so they can also add a fraud alert to your file. Call local law enforcement and request a police report which can be invaluable in your discussions with creditors. And finally, continue to monitor your credit report for unusual activity.

For more information about ways to protect yourself and your family from identity theft, visit www.equifax.com. Equifax also offers a new resource at www.mycrediteducation.com, featuring helpful advice and tips on identity theft protection and credit management.

Courtesy of ARA Content