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FIRST-PERSON: Not with my identity you don’t

GAINESVILLE, Ga. (BP)–On the ZDNet.com website a recent headline shouted: “Consumers, retailers grapple with data theft.” MasterCard had reported that an intruder gained access to names, account numbers and verification codes for 40 million credit cards that could be used to commit fraud, and consumers were left in the dark.

Online retailers often bear the cost of credit card scams. Well, no one really wants retailers to lose money but you may be asking, “Hey, what about me? It’s my credit card, and it may have been my information that was stolen.”

We’ve probably all heard actual nightmare stories of identity theft, so let’s look at some things you should consider doing on a regular basis.

How can someone steal an identity? They do it by co-opting your name, Social Security number, credit card number or some other piece of personal identification for their own use. In short, identity theft occurs when someone appropriates your personal information without your knowledge in order to establish a parallel identity.

That allows them to pretend to be you in order to open bank accounts and apply for loans, and you may not know it’s happening for months or years. The impostors don’t pay the bills, and you are left with a disastrous credit report.

James E. Bauer, deputy assistant director of the Office of Investigations for the U.S. Secret Service, advises consumers to arm themselves with knowledge on how to mend the damages when victimized. Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in America, affecting an average of 500,000 new victims each year for the past decade. Identity theft has accounted for more than 25 percent of all credit card fraud losses since 1997.

Some common sense methods can help protect your privacy. However, these protective measures don’t guarantee that a criminal will not get access to your credit from a less-than-cautious credit grantor. Here are some tips:

— Never put: checks in the mail at your home mailbox; your Social Security number on checks or credit receipts; phone numbers on checks; or credit card numbers on the Internet unless it is encrypted on a secured site.

— Shred all important papers and correspondence which include your name and/or address.

— Be careful of “shoulder surfers” at ATMs, and at phone booths when using phone cards.

— Cancel credit cards that you don’t use or haven’t used in six months.

— Put passwords on all accounts.

— Memorize Social Security numbers and passwords. Don’t carry your Social Security card.

— Monitor every bank statement for every credit card every month.

— Order a credit report at least yearly, review it carefully, and immediately correct mistakes on your report in writing to the credit agencies.

— Make a list of all your credit card and bank account numbers and keep them in a safe place.

— Always take credit card receipts with you, and never toss them in a public trash container.

— If you receive e-mail requests that appear to be from your Internet Service Provider (ISP) stating that your “account information needs to be updated” or that “your credit card is invalid or expired and the information needs to be reentered to keep your account active,” do not respond without checking with your ISP.

Unfortunately, in identity-theft cases the victim often has to prove his or her innocence. The burden remains on victims to correct the credit mess the imposter has made. This shocks most new identity-theft victims who naturally expect the police, credit grantors, credit-reporting agencies or others in positions of authority to help them.

Generally, victims of credit and banking fraud are liable for no more than the first $50 of the loss (15 USC 1643). However, the victim must notify financial institutions within two days of learning of the loss. The problem is that, even though victims may not be liable for the imposter’s bill, often they are left with a bad credit report and must spend months, or even years, regaining their financial health.

In 1998 Congress made identity theft a federal crime and directed the Federal Trade Commission to establish a clearinghouse for identity-theft complaints and assistance. Its website is www.consumer.gov/idtheft, and counselors who staff the FTC’s toll-free hotline (877-438-4338) will provide assistance with steps to take if you become a victim of identity theft.

If you are a victim or suspect that you may be a victim of identity theft, it is important to act promptly to stop the thief’s further use of your identity. Immediately:

— Report the crime to the local police.

— Call all credit card issuers and get replacement cards with new account numbers.

— Call the fraud units of the three credit reporting companies: Experian (888-397-3742); Equifax (800-525-6285); TransUnion (800-680-7289). Ask for your account to be flagged, and add a victim’s statement to the report.

— Contact the National Fraud Information Center (800-876-7060) for step-by-step instructions.

— Notify your bank of the theft. Get a new ATM card, and a new account number and password.

— Contact the Social Security Administration (800-269-0271).

— Report fraudulent checks to: TeleCheck (800-710-9898), National Processing Company (800-526-5380) or Equifax (800-437-5120).

Victims of identity theft often report that they feel they’re somehow to blame. They also can feel violated and powerless due to the fact that few, if any, of the authorities who have been notified of the crime step forward to give immediate and appropriate help to the victim.

So before any of this happens, the very first thing a Christian must do is to transfer ownership of every possession to God. This means money, time, family, material possessions and credit. This is essential if you are to experience the Spirit-filled life in the area of finances. A Christian must realize that there is absolutely no substitute for this step.

If you believe that you own even a single possession, then the events affecting that possession are going to affect your attitude. However, if you make a total transfer of everything to God, He will demonstrate His ability. He will keep His promise to provide every need we have according to His perfect plan.

Financial freedom comes from knowing God is in control. What a relief it is to turn our burdens over to Him. Then, even if we become victims of identity theft, we can say, “Father, I gave my credit to You; I’ve been, to the best of my ability, a good steward of that credit. It belongs to you, so do with it whatever You would like.” Then look for the blessings God has promised.
Howard Dayton is CEO of Crown Financial Ministries. Dayton and the late Larry Burkett joined forces in 2000 when Crown Ministries, led by Dayton, merged with Christian Financial Concepts, led by Burkett. The new organization became Crown Financial Ministries, on the Web at www.crown.org.

    About the Author

  • Howard Dayton