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Identity Theft – It Could Happen to You!

By: Bernard A. Krooks, Certified Elder Law Attorney

We hear about it on the news all the time; yet, we think it can’t happen to us.  Well, guess what, it can.  In fact, it recently happened to me!  I received a notice from the NYS Department of Labor advising me that my unemployment benefits had been approved.  Really?  I am still working and blessed with the opportunity to practice law and help others.  How could this happen?  Well, somehow someone got my Social Security number and filed a fraudulent claim on my behalf.  Very scary.

Estate Executor LiabilityIdentity theft is a growing problem; however, there are things each of us can do to minimize the possibility of identity theft or effectively deal with it if it happens.  Some of these tips come from the National Consumer Law Center.  We wrote about this a few years ago but feel it is important enough to re-visit again at this time since identity theft crime is definitely on the rise.

Checks:   If you still use paper checks and do not want to pay your bills online, please do not put a telephone number on your checks.  If you feel like you must put a phone number, then use your work telephone number instead of your home telephone number.  Don’t put your home address on your checks.  If you have a post office box, use that instead.  Never have your Social Security number printed on your checks.  If your Social Security number is printed on your checks, anyone can have access to it.

Wallet:  Photocopy the contents of your wallet.  Copy both sides of each document in your wallet, including your driver’s license, other identification cards, and credit and debit cards.  This will permit you to know what you had in your wallet, including account numbers, so you know what account holders need to be notified in case your wallet is lost or stolen.  Keep the photocopy in a safe place.  Some credit and debit card companies offer a registry as part of their services.  It may be worth the fee to call one number, and then have the registry notify all of your credit and debit card issuers about a loss or a theft.

Other tips to avoid identity theft:

  • Sign your credit cards immediately.  Better yet, only use credit cards with chip technology.  This will make it much harder for the bad guys to use your card.
  • Do not carry your Social Security card with you; keep it in a safe place.
  • Do not attach a personal identification number (PIN) or Social Security number (SSN) to any card that you carry with you, or on any receipt or paper that you are going to throw away.
  • Shred any document that contains a PIN, SSN, or account number before you throw it away.
  • Check your receipts to make sure you have received your own and not someone else’s.
  • Alert your credit or debit card issuer if you do not receive your statement; someone may be stealing your mail.  These days, many people are more comfortable receiving their statements via email as opposed to regular snail mail.  Email, of course, poses its own risks.
  • Do not give your personal information to anyone until you have confirmed the identity of the person and verified that you need to provide the information.
  • Check your credit reports on a regular basis.
  • Put passwords on your accounts, but do not use something easily available, such as your mother’s maiden name or your date of birth.  Change your passwords regularly.

If your wallet or credit and debit cards are lost or stolen, or if you suspect identity theft, then you should notify the credit or debit card issuers immediately.  This is easier to accomplish if you have kept a list of your card numbers and the toll free telephone numbers of the credit card and debit issuers.  Keep this list in a place where you can find it, or subscribe to a registry.  You should also immediately file a police report where your wallet or credit or debit cards were lost or stolen.

You should also notify the three major credit reporting agencies to place a fraud or identity theft alert on your accounts.  This is important because thieves may apply over the Internet for credit in your name.  This alert will tell any company that is checking your credit in order to issue new credit in your name that your information was stolen.  They will have to contact you by telephone to authorize new credit.  The names and phone numbers for the three major credit reporting agencies are:

Equifax: 800-525-6285
Experian:  888-397-3742
Trans Union: 800-680-7289

You can order copies of your credit reports from each of these agencies, and review the credit reports to see if any new accounts in your name have been opened fraudulently.  You can receive a free copy of your credit report once every 12 months from each of the three major credit reporting agencies.

Identity theft is a one of the fastest growing crimes.  You can help protect yourself against identity theft by following the above tips.

To learn more about how our dedicated team of attorneys can assist your family with its unique needs, call 914-684-1200 to schedule a no-obligation consultation today or contact us here.