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Credit Card Offers Can Lure Identity Thieves

Francine L. Huff
LoanBiz Columnist

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About 9 million Americans have their identity stolen each year, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Often the theft isn't discovered until a person finds out about new credit cards opened in their name. But consumers can take steps to guard their credit and deter identity thieves before they strike.

Credit Card Offers Get Stolen

About 5.3 billion credit card offers were mailed to Americans in 2007, according to Mail Monitor, a credit card direct mail tracking service. Many of those mailings got tossed into the trash, posing a potential security risk for many households. Identity thieves go through people's garbage (this is called "dumpster diving") looking for credit card applications, bank statements, and other personal information. To avoid having their documents stolen, consumers should shred anything that has personal information such as social security numbers and financial account numbers, as well as credit card applications and other forms they don't plan to use.

Be On Guard with Credit Cards

Some people have their credit card numbers stolen while paying for products and services. "Skimming" is a fraud technique in which a store employee uses a storage device to record the card number (and PIN number if it's a debit card) when the transaction is processed. This tactic has been reported at restaurants, gas stations, stores, and other places where cards are out of a customer's sight for a brief amount of time. To avoid becoming a victim of skimming people should use credit cards only when they can watch them being processed -- and otherwise pay with cash.

Unsolicited Emails and Phone Calls

It's always a good idea to treat unsolicited emails and phone calls from credit card companies with a good deal of skepticism. "Phishing" via email is a big problem -- scam artists pose as employees of financial institutions to steal credit card numbers and other personal information. Legitimate credit card companies and other firms will never ask for personal information or account numbers in an email. And if someone calls and says they're from a bank or other financial firm, it's a good idea to get their name, hang up, and then call the company back using the phone number on the monthly statement.

Identity thieves can ruin an unsuspecting person's credit. People can watch over their credit by getting a copy of their credit report from all three consumer reporting agencies. Everyone can get a free copy of their report every 12 months from each agency at www.annualcreditreport.com.

Sources
Federal Trade Commission
Payments News


About the Author
Francine L. Huff is a freelance journalist and the author of The 25-Day Money Makeover for Women. She has appeared on a variety of TV and radio shows.

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