By Bernard A. Krooks, Certified Elder Law Attorney
Identity theft is a growing problem; however, there are things each of us can do to minimize the possibility of identity theft or effectively deal with it if it happens. Some of these tips come from the National Consumer Law Center.
Checks: If you still use paper checks and do not want to pay your bills online, please do not put a telephone number on your checks. If you feel like you must put a phone number, then use your work telephone number instead. Don’t put your home address on your checks, use a post office box instead. Never have your Social Security number printed on your checks.
Wallet: Photocopy the contents of your wallet. Copy both sides of each document in your wallet, including your driver’s license, other identification cards, and credit and debit cards. Keep the photocopy in a safe place. Some credit and debit card companies offer a registry as part of their services. It may be worth the fee to call one number, and then have the registry notify all of your credit and debit card issuers about a loss or a theft.
Other tips to avoid identity theft:
• Sign your credit cards immediately. Better yet, only use credit cards with chip technology.
• Do not carry your Social Security card with you; keep it in a safe place.
• Do not attach a personal identification number (PIN) or Social Security number (SSN) to any card that you carry with you, or on any receipt or paper that you are going to throw away.
• Shred any document that contains a PIN, SSN, or account number before you throw it away.
• Check your receipts to make sure you have received your own and not someone else’s.
• Alert your credit or debit card issuer if you do not receive your statement; someone may be stealing your mail.
• Do not give your personal information to anyone until you have confirmed the identity of the person and verified that you need to provide the information.
• Check your credit reports on a regular basis.
• Put passwords on your accounts, but do not use something easily available, such as your mother’s maiden name or your date of birth. Change your passwords regularly.
If your wallet or credit and debit cards are lost or stolen, or if you suspect identity theft, then you should notify the credit or debit card issuers immediately. This is easier to accomplish if you have kept a list of your card numbers and the toll free telephone numbers of the credit card and debit issuers. Keep this list in a place where you can find it, or subscribe to a registry. You should also immediately file a police report where your wallet or credit or debit cards were lost or stolen.
You should also notify the three major credit reporting agencies to place a fraud or identity theft alert on your accounts. This is important because thieves may apply over the Internet for credit in your name. This alert will tell any company that is checking your credit in order to issue new credit in your name that your information was stolen. They will have to contact you by telephone to authorize new credit.
The three major credit reporting agencies are: Equifax: 800-525-6285; Experian: 888-397-3742 and Trans Union: 800-680-7289 .
You can order copies of your credit reports from each of these agencies, and review the credit reports to see if any new accounts in your name have been opened fraudulently. You can receive a free copy of your credit report once every 12 months from each of the three major credit reporting agencies.
Bernard A. Krooks, Esq., is a founding partner of Littman Krooks LLP and has been honored as one of the “Best Lawyers” in America for each of the last seven years. He is past President of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) and past President of the New York Chapter of NAELA. Mr. Krooks has also served as chair of the Elder Law Section of the New York State Bar Association. He has been selected as a “New York Super Lawyer” since 2006. Mr. Krooks may be reached at (914-684-2100) or by visiting the firm’s website at www.elderlawnewyork.com.