Letters To The Editor


September 25, 2005

Tips for avoiding identity theft

With Maryland ranking 13th in the nation for identity theft crimes, I am glad the General Assembly has put together a task force to seek out solutions to protect our citizens.

As a former counterintelligence special agent with the Army, I worked closely with the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) to protect soldiers from identity theft.

While the General Assembly investigates this years'-old problem, I would like to offer our community seven golden tips on protecting themselves from a would-be culprit.

When writing checks or signing important legal documents, use only pens that have a gel-based ink; commonly known as "Gel Pens." The chemical makeup of the ink makes it more difficult to alter or erase.

Your garbage can hold all your secrets. When discarding documents that contain personal information, shred them first. Use shredders that have a cross cut, not a strip cut. These shredders can be found at any office supply store for as little as $40.

Pre-approved credit mailers for mortgages, credit cards and other loans can contain your personal information. When they are tossed in the trash, you become susceptible to identity theft. You can stop pre-approval mail by removing your name from marketing lists by calling: 888-567-8688.

Except when needed, do not carry extra credit cards, your Social Security card, birth certificate, passport or medical insurance cards that bear your Social Security number.

Identity thieves will often pose as telemarketers. To stop legitimate telemarketers from calling and publicly sharing your contact information, you can sign up for the Federal Trade Commission's national Do Not Call registry by calling 888-382-1222.

Call your phone company and ask that your name, telephone number and address not be listed. This will help prevent identity thieves from calling you or sending solicitation mailings.

Contact your bank, credit card companies, insurance companies and/or investment firms and "Opt Out" of the sale or sharing of your financial information. This happens too often.

Unfortunately, identity theft is hard to prevent. Criminals can commit identity theft relatively easily because of lax credit industry practices and the ease of obtaining your Social Security number.

But you can reduce your risk of fraud by following these tips.

Also, make certain to check your credit report at least once a year. If you are a victim of identity theft, you can catch it early by checking your credit report.

Congress' Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act allows that U.S. citizens may receive one free credit report annually. To place an order for your free credit report call 877-322-8228.

Rob LaPin Bel Air

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