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Protect Yourself Against Identity Theft

– By District 1 Sen. Dave Cox

Identity theft is one of California´s fastest growing crimes.

The Department of Consumer Affairs reports that identity theft is the most common consumer fraud complaint made to the Federal Trade Commission and it has been the top concern for 5 years running. Over nine million Americans were identity theft victims last year, including one million Californians.

No one is safe from this crime and we all must take steps to protect our financial and credit identity.

The impact of identity theft on its victims is hard to overstate. A good credit history is necessary for everything today, from buying a car or a home to renting an apartment to getting a new job or a promotion. With easy access to the Internet and phone solicitation, abuse has grown and it is getting worse.

Unfortunately, California law is too lenient against those who commit this crime and the potential profits are so great that even street gangs have taken up the practice to finance their other criminal activities. Under current law, identity theft is only a misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum penalty of 16 months, 2 years or 3 years in the state prison, and/or a $10,000 fine.

While we work to find legislative solutions, here are steps you should take to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft:

• Check your credit report twice a year and examine it thoroughly.

• Consider adding a statement to your credit file that makes it more difficult to grant credit without calling you to confirm the application.

• Make it harder for ID thieves to get “identifying information” from your mail and mailbox.

• Carry only the credit card you would use in an emergency and keep all other credit cards at home, in a secure place. Do not carry your Social Security card.

• If you do carry all of your cards, make sure to record their names, account numbers and customer service numbers and keep them in a secure place.

• Shred or secure in a lockbox all documents with important identifying information on them.

• Watch anyone who asks to “swipe” your credit or debit card.

• On the backs of your credit cards, write “Always check ID” in black marker.

• Do not have your driver´s license or Social Security number printed on your checks.

According to the California Department of Justice, “Victims of identity theft must act quickly to minimize the damage. Keep good notes of all conversations and records of all correspondence with your financial institutions and law enforcement agencies, including a log of the names, dates and phone number of persons you contacted. Confirm the information in writing; sending your letters by certified mail, return receipt requested, will provide you with a record of your correspondence.”

Here are some tips if you have been a victim of identity theft:

• Report identity theft to major credit bureaus.

• File a police report and retain a copy for your records.

• Contact all creditors.

• Regularly monitor your credit report.

• Contest bills that result from identity theft, especially if an account is opened fraudulently in your name.

Reprinted with permission from The Amador Ledger Dispatch