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Keep Your Financial Information Under Wraps

By: Office of Inspector General

While you're keeping an eye out for bargains this holiday season, you may also want to keep an eye on your personal and financial information as well. That's because the holidays - with online, mail order, and credit card activity - provide ample opportunity for identity theft.

According to the Office of the Inspector General, identify theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the U.S., costing consumers more than $5 billion annually. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to protect yourself - many of which involve little more than an involve little more than an increased awareness on your part.
To help you get started, you may want to consider the "3-D" approach mentioned below.


Deny potential thieves access to personal information. Here are just a few ways to help keep potential thieves at bay:

  • Never give anyone your account numbers, access codes, PIN numbers and most importantly, your social security number without being 100 percent sure how that information will be used.
  • Refuse to give out personal information over the phone, unless you've initiated the call and are confident of the source. By the same token, be wary of e-mails or links to official looking Web sites that request personal information.
  • Install firewalls and regularly update the virus protection software on your computer.
  • Limit the number of identification cards you carry, and be sure to keep your social security card in a secure location.


Identity thieves gain access to your personal information through a variety of sources - some sophisticated, and some ordinary. Eliminate them before your information falls into the wrong hands.

  • Shred all financial documents, bills and receipts before placing them in the trash.
  • Destroy any unwanted mail offers so that someone cannot apply in your name. You may also take outgoing mail to a secure location such as the post office.
  • Delete any unsolicited or unfamiliar e-mails as they may contain viruses or spyware.
  • Be sure to purge all information from your computer's hard drive and disks before discarding them.


In the event you do fall victim, early detection can make all the difference in limiting the amount of damage that's caused.

  • Review all credit card and other financial statements thoroughly, and look for unusual activity. An unfamiliar charge could serve as a warning signal.
  • Regularly monitor your credit reports to see if any fraudulent activity or new applications for credit have appeared. Fortunately, this is easier than ever as you now have the right to receive one free credit report a year from each of the three reporting companies.
  • Watch your check numbers. If you see checks clearing with numbers well in advance of those you are currently using, it's most likely a sign that someone has ordered checks from your account.

The 4th D?

If you discover - or even suspect - that someone has stolen your identity, don't delay before taking action.

  • Issue a fraud alert by immediately contacting any of the credit reporting companies listed below (you only need to contact one, as they're required to share such requests). This will prevent any further credit applications from being processed, and make sure that no one can access your credit report without notifying you first.
  • In addition, you'll also want to file a report with the local police, and complete the Federal Trade Commission's universal fraud affidavit to document your claim and help limit your liability.

To issue a fraud alert, call any of the following credit bureaus: Experian 1-888-397-3742, Equifax 1-800-525-6285, TransUnion 1-800-680-7289.

To request free credit reports from any of the companies listed, call The Annual Credit Report Service at 1-877-322-8228 or visit their Web site at

I won custody of my son because my son needed me to!
  -- David A. - Dallas, TX

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