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ID theft thrives by surprise

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SUNNYVALE, Calif. (9/28/11)--The woman on the other end of the line identifies herself as a police officer. A camera caught you running a red light and you owe an overdue fine. You’re facing a hefty late fee, a court date, and possibly jail time. You choose to pay the bill over the phone. Congratulations! You’ve just given away your identity (Yahoo! Autos Sept. 19). The scenario may be new, but the enabling factors are the same for all types of identity theft: Scammers count on the element of surprise and that you won’t do your fact-checking. Fact: The police and most other authorities will not use the phone to obtain your personal information or to collect overdue fines or tickets. They use the U.S. Postal Service or even a personal visit by a law enforcement officer. Even if you’re already on guard about protecting your private information, there’s an emerging market for identity theft that targets a different timeline surprise--your kids (Huffington Post Aug. 22). Children’s Social Security numbers offer identity thieves a clean slate on which they can commit fraud for years without detection. After all, how many parents think to run credit reports on their children? Organized crime is a major player in child identity theft. An undocumented immigrant or even a family member could be using your child’s Social Security number to start a new life, secure credit, get a mortgage, or pay bills. The Federal Trade Commission reports that, in 2010, about 8% of identity theft complaints came from victims age 19 and younger. Your innocent neglect could affect your children for years, but seldom will be detected when the fraud is occurring. Your adult children might discover the problem only when they apply for a credit card or a mortgage loan--and are denied. The damage from identity theft can take a long time and a lot of dollars to repair. Reduce your chances of becoming a surprise victim of identity theft by following this advice from the Consumer Federation of America:
* Don’t carry your child’s Social Security card. Lost Social Security cards are the most common source of information for identity thieves. * Ask before you tell. When asked for your child’s personal information, find out how it will be stored or, if not stored, how it will be destroyed or returned. * Use a cross-cut paper shredder. Before you dispose of documents with your child’s personal information, shred it using a cross-cut paper shredder. * Don’t post, and remove any existing online photos of your children. Identity thieves can use the geocoding features embedded within digital images to find information that helps them steal children’s identities. * Don’t tell your children their Social Security numbers. Wait until they understand how and why to protect themselves from identity theft.
For more information, view the video “How to Prevent Identity Theft” in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.