Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Personal Information is Valuable

October has been named National Cyber Security Awareness Month by the National Cyber Security Alliance. Their website, staysafeonline.org has listed their "Top 8 Cyber Security Practices to Stay Safe Online." CyberSecurity tip #1 is "Protect your Personal Information. It's Valuable." Personal identity theft can cause major problems for your credit. Although you can not always prevent your valuable personal information from ending up in the wrong hands, there are steps you can take to protect yourself. The National Cyber Security Alliance has tips on how to help you keep your important personal information private including:

  • Don't open unsolicited or unknown email messages.
  • Shred junk mail, especially credit card applications.
  • If you are shopping online, make sure the vendor is using a secure website to process the financial transaction. A lot of times, you can tell the site is secure by the url. If the site has an "https" address, it is a secure transmission. You would also see a lock icon on the browser status bar. However, this does not always mean it is secure as some scammers will place false security icons on their sites.
  • Do not give personal or financial information through email request. Companies, especially financial institutions do not ask for personal information through email requests. If you are not sure, call the company and talk to a customer service agent on the phone.

The Federal Trade Commission calls personal identity theft one of the fastest growing crimes in the United States and can have devastating consequences on its victims. Their website has a lot of valuable information about identity theft including a video that helps to explain the dangers of having your identity stolen.

How would you know you are the victim of identity theft? Some things you might notice are:

  • Fraudulent or inaccurate information on your credit reports
  • Receiving credit cards or credit card bills you didn’t apply for
  • Being denied credit for no apparent reason
  • Getting calls from debt collectors about merchandise you did not purchase

You should check your credit report with one of the three major credit bureaus. You are entitled to a free credit report once every 12 months. The FTC has information on how to request your credit report.

What should you do if you are a victim of personal identity theft?

You should immediately contact one of the three major credit bureaus and put out a fraud alert on your information. Once you call one of the major credit bureaus, they will alert the other two. Another thing you should do is call your bank and credit card companies to send you new cards and account numbers. Finally, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission by calling their Identity Theft Hotline, toll-free: 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338). You may also need to file a police report in the community where the identity theft took place.

You might not always be able to prevent identity theft, but you can take steps to minimize the dangers and know what to do if it ever happens to you.

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