Reduce consumer risk by slowing crooks down

KRT NEWSFEATURES By Heather Newman Knight Ridder Newspapers (KRT) DETROIT _ What can you do to prevent someone from stealing your identity? Nothing. But there are a few things you can do to reduce the risk and cut down on the damage: _Don’t hand out personal information lightly. When you visit a doctor’s office, ask what absolutely has to be on the new-patient form. When you visit a car dealership for a test drive, remind the salesperson not to run a credit report without your permission (it’s not supposed to happen, but according to Consumer Reports magazine, it still does). _Clean out your wallet or purse. Don’t carry your Social Security card, your PIN numbers, statements or receipts. _Don’t print your Social Security number, credit card number or driver’s license number on your checks. _Ask agencies that issue ID cards _ like your college, your health insurance company or your employer _ to use an alternate number on your card instead of your Social Security number. _Check with your homeowner’s policy to see whether the costs of identity theft, including time away from work and attorney fees, are covered. _Rip up or shred financial documents before throwing them out, even dividing them between trashcans. Ask offices where you have personal information on file what their policy is for disposing of those documents when they’re no longer needed. _Guard family tree information. In many cases, all someone needs to order a new birth certificate in your name is your date and place of birth and your parents’ names. _Read every bank and credit card statement when it comes in to verify the charges. Open all mail from credit companies to make sure it’s not a notice of a change of address or new account. _Call 888-567-8688 to get your name off the list for pre-approved credit card offers sent by mail. Yes, we know this one has been floating around on the Internet as a number to keep credit agencies from handing out your credit information “to whoever asks.” Getting rid of pre-approved offers is what it’s really for. _Get copies of your credit reports from all three agencies every six months; each tends to have listings the other two don’t. Call or visit Experian, (888-397-3742, Equifax (800-685-1111, and TransUnion (800-888-4213, or visit a site like, which offers all three companies’ reports (see the tiny “3 Bureau Online Credit Report” link at the bottom). _If you think your information might be at risk but don’t see any evidence, you can enroll in a fraud watch service from the agencies themselves or their partners. You’ll see a multitude of links on their Web sites. _You can also place a fraud watch on your account, but that can make life somewhat inconvenient if you want to open a new legitimate line of credit _ and not every lender watches for them. ___ ‘copy 2003, Detroit Free Press. Visit the Freep, the World Wide Web site of the Detroit Free Press, at Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.