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May 2002
PROTECT YOUR IDENTITY FROM THEFT!

Last month in Wisconsin Energy Cooperative News, I promised to talk more about identity theft, one of the fastest growing crimes in Wisconsin and the nation. Identity theft occurs when a criminal obtains identifying information such as your name, address, date of birth, social security number, mother’s maiden name and other personal identifying information, and uses it to illegally open credit cards, telephone calling cards and bank accounts in your name. This is a difficult crime to prosecute because enforcement is usually left to the local police and the criminal may be many states--or even countries--away. Police departments are already strapped investigating other crimes and identity theft, in part because the crime’s devastating personal impact is not well understood, often goes to the bottom of the investigation pile.

Identify Theft Warning Signs

The warning signs are: (1) your monthly credit card and bank statements stop arriving, (2) you are denied credit when you believe your credit is in good shape, (3) you start receiving bills from companies you are not doing business with, and (4) credit card agencies start contacting you to collect debts that do not belong to you.

Identify Theft Protections

You can protect yourself from identity theft by following these seven easy steps. First, immediately contact your credit card company or bank if you do not receive your monthly statements. Second, shred all personal documents before you put them in the trash. Third, do not give out personal information to someone who called you over the telephone, who contacted you on the Internet, or on a cellular or cordless phone. Fourth, do not carry your social security number in your wallet or purse and do not carried unnecessary credit cards. Fifth, do not put your address, telephone number or driver’s license number on a credit card sales receipt or on a check. Sixth, mail payments and other sensitive financial documents at the post office--do not leave them in your mailbox for pickup. Seventh, only use your credit card on the Internet if it will be encrypted. Look for a padlock icon on the site and check for security assurances.

Finally, you should review your credit report every year if possible. You can call the three major credit reporting agencies tollfree to order your credit report. The order will usually costs less than $10 and is free if you have recently been denied credit or a job. Call Equifax at 1/800-685-1111, Experian at 1/888-397-3742, and TransUnion at 1/800-916-8800.

You can get an excellent brochure on identity theft distributed for free by the CBM Credit Foundation by sending a self-addressed stamped envelope to: CBM Credit Foundation, Inc., 2509 S. Stoughton Road, Suite 300, Madison, WI 53716-3319.

Next month I will focus on telemarketing and how you can eliminate much of the junk mail and telemarketing calls you receive.

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