Identity Theft has become a major problem in our society. Often these criminals prey on people, like yourself, who are going through periods of emotional stress and dealing with the necessary business transactions that a death presents. The following are some thoughts on how to protect yourself from being victimized:
- As a result of a death, you will be required to follow up on several business issues (ie: banking, life insurance, credit cards, etc.) that require the processing of documents with your personal information (ie: date of birth, social security number, address, etc.). Be careful in the completion of these documents and make sure that any requested information is necessary and that it is being processed and filed with your privacy and protection in mind.
- If someone contacts you with a request for your personal information, determine that they are a legitimate business and someone you have an obligation to respond to. Verify them before you release any personal information. Record who you are speaking to, the business they represent, their phone number and the reason they are contacting you. If you are still not comfortable, tell them you will have to call them back and seek counsel from a family member or attorney.
- Never give any information to anyone who pressures you in any way. Examples are: promotions that you have to take advantage of “right now” or callers who ask for any personal information to “update your file”. This is also very important if you receive email by computer or cell phone.
- Purchase a cross-cut paper shredder and shred all documents that contain any of your personal information - never throw these papers away intact.
- If you feel you are a victim of identity theft or just want to verify your credit history, below is some information on the credit reporting agencies.
Credit Reporting Agencies
The contact information for the three major credit reporting agencies (or credit bureaus) is below. When you contact them, you must have specific information handy so that they can verify your identity. Note that these agencies have a duty to make sure that the person requesting a copy of his or her credit report is indeed that person and not a thief or unauthorized third party. Therefore, if the information they have on file about you does not match the information you provide to them, there will be a delay in obtaining your report, or they might deny your request altogether.
When ordering your credit report, you might be asked to provide the following information: first, middle and last name; current address; most recent former addresses; social security number, date of birth; spouse’s name.
You are entitled to one free credit report each year from each of the three credit bureaus - Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. For additional credit reports, they may charge you a fee of around $10 for each copy of your credit report. The three credit bureaus have set up a website so you can easily order your credit reports online at www.annualcreditreport.com, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.
You can also order your credit report online at each of the three credit bureaus websites: www.experian.com, www.equifax.com, and www.transunion.com. However, if you order your credit reports directly from their websites, they may try to sell you numerous services and programs that you don’t really need. Below are the addresses and phone numbers for the three credit reporting agencies.
- Experian: P.O. Box 9595 (see note), Allen, TX 75013-9595 Tel: 888-397-3742
Note: Experian has a long history of changing its mailing address periodically, so the mailing address provided may not be accurate.
- Equifax: P.O. Box 740241;, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241 Tel: 800-685-1111
- TransUnion: P.O. Box 1000, Chester, PA 19022 Tel: 800-888-4213
For more detailed information on how to further protect yourself, contact your local police department.