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Guarding against identity theft

December 13, 2001

The white collar crime is on the rise. But recently, victims of the crime hit a road block in how they can fight back.

Identity theft is said to be the fastest growing financial scheme. It has even reached the darkest edge. The September 11th hijackers are accused of stealing Social Security numbers to obtain fake credit cards and driver's licenses.

But what about the victims on the other end of the crime? They now are facing a major setback. Every year, half-a-million consumers are finding out firsthand about this nasty, white collar crime.

"I have a daughter who lives in Chicago, and she had that happen to her, she had her wallet stolen and credit cards used and her identity stolen from her," said Jim Baumhart of the Better Business Bureau.

Often times, thieves using that information to open up new accounts, treating themselves to lavish shopping sprees-- and expensive purchases. "You have people that work in restaurants that maybe using credit card charges for their own personal advantage," said Baumhart. "It's really one of the crimes of the decade, it started in the 90's."

But now there's a setback. The U. S. Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, ruled that consumers who want to sue credit bureaus for mistakes must do it within two years, after the crime occurred.

Problem is -- many don't find out until too late. "It is tragic when we hear of cases of people that go to sell their home and they can find out there's a lien because they didn't pay a credit card bill they didn't even know existed," Baumhart says.

But there are ways to protect yourself on the front end. Experts say get an annual credit report. Another great tool to combat crooks is a paper shredder. Destroy all non tax-related documents.

And there are credit-monitoring services, that for a price can alert you of any suspicious activity. You have to pay attention, because in effect, that personal info is you, it's not just a credit card, it's not just a driver's license, it's you, and you are the one responsible.

A credit report will cost you about eight dollars- when you're doing a regular check. However, if you've been denied credit based on a report, you are entitled to a free copy.

The three major national credit bureaus are:

  • Equifax, P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241; (800) 685-1111.
  • Experian (formerly TRW), P.O. Box 2104, Allen, TX 75013; (888) 397-3742.
  • Trans Union, P.O. Box 1000, Chester, PA 19022; (800) 916-8800.

 

The Federal Trade Commission has some facts everyone should know about credit reporting, and your credit record.