How to protect yourself from identify theft

24 Oct 2006 | Lance Cpl. Patrick M. Fleischman

Following the May 3 theft of a Veterans Affairs laptop computer, identity theft has been spotlighted in the media while identity theft complaints to the Federal Trade Commission have increased five-fold in the last three years

Deter, detect and defend is the Federal Trade Commission’s new strategy to inform consumers about how to protect themselves from identity theft methods such as e-mail scams, known as ‘phishing’, dumpster diving, credit card theft, unauthorized change of a consumers address and by physically stealing information.

“Raising identity theft awareness on base is important to the Provost Marshal’s Office because of the large amount of time Marines spend away from home, which makes them more susceptible to this threat,” said Boisy Pardue, crime prevention specialist for PMO here.

The first part of the strategy is to deter identity thieves by shredding financial documents and paperwork with personal information before discarding them. The FTC’s handout “Fighting Back Against Identity Theft” also recommends protecting social security numbers by not carrying the card in a wallet using only the last four digits of the number, and using up-to-date anti-spyware and anti-virus software to protect a home computer.

“Avoid giving out personal information on the phone, through the mail, or over the Internet unless it is certain that the party is safe to deal with, and never click on links sent in unsolicited emails. Instead, type the address into the web browser to ensure that is it the correct site,” said Pardue.

Consumers can detect suspicious activity by routinely monitoring their financial accounts and billing statements, which can alert a consumer to signs that could indicate a possible theft. Things like bills that do not arrive as expected, unexpected credit cards or account statements, denials of credit for no apparent reason, calls or letters about purchases that were not authorized are things to watch for, according to the FTC handout.

Defending against a possible theft requires immediate action as soon as a problem is suspected. The FTC recommends that the consumer place a "Fraud Alert" on their credit reports and review the reports carefully. The alert tells creditors to follow certain procedures before they open new accounts in a consumers name or make changes to an existing account.

The three nationwide consumer reporting companies have toll-free numbers for placing an initial 90-day fraud alert; however, a call to one company is sufficient: Equifax at 800-525-6285, Experian at 888-397-3742 and TransUnion 800-680-7289, according to the FTC handout.

Placing a fraud alert entitles the consumer to free copies of their credit reports to look for inquiries from companies a person would not have contacted, accounts they didn't open and debts on and accounts that are unaccounted for, according to the Equifax Web site.

Victims should contact the bank or credit card company and if checks or credit cards were stolen or wrongfully obtained to report the matter to PMO at 451-3004, explained Pardue.

“A creditor may want a copy of a police report before correcting a credit account or credit report,” added Pardue.

Lastly, PMO recommends filing a report case immediately to the appropriate government and private-sector organization like the FTC Identity Theft Hotline at 877- 438-4338, and contacting the Internet Crime Complaint Center, which is a is a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National White Collar Crime Center to file a complaint with the IC3 visit

Headquarters Marine Corps