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How to Safeguard Your Identity

Identity theft is a growing problem with expensive, stressful, time-consuming consequences.

You've seen the commercials dramatizing identity theft. Beyond the voiceovers and witty advertising, the truth is anything but fun. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports millions of victims annually, and Michigan ranks at the top in identity theft-related complaints. Suddenly, it's becoming increasingly important to not only provide proof of who you are but also to protect that information as aggressively as possible.

Identity theft occurs when someone uses your name, Social Security number (SSN), bank or credit card account number, address or other identifying information without your knowledge to commit fraud or other crimes.

Ten Tips for Prevention

  1. Go with your gut – If an inquiry seems too good to be true, suspicious or unusual, be sure to question it
  2. Remove the paper trail – Choose to receive account statements via secure E-Statements
  3. Guard your wallet or purse – Limit the amount of information you carry, and never leave it unattended
  4. Destroy sensitive information – Be sure to shred bills, receipts, credit card offers and medical forms
  5. Hide passwords – Choose unique passwords and PINs; memorize them, if possible; or keep them in a secure place
  6. Be tight-lipped – Know who you are giving personal information to; never disclose anything unless you are sure
  7. Stay up on accounts – Be cognizant of your billing cycles; if a bill is missing, follow up with the company
  8. Avoid email ploys – Proceed with caution with requests for account verification, maintenance or terms of service
  9. Know where you are on the Web – Before releasing anything about yourself, check out the site's security
  10. Check your credit report annually – This is a sound investment in your personal identity

How to Obtain a Free Credit Report

You may request a free copy of your credit report from the three major credit bureaus - www.equifax.com, www.experian.com and www.transunion.com - once every 12 months.

To obtain your free copy, simply go to www.annualcreditreport.com. There are convenient online, phone and mail options for obtaining your report. You will be required to provide personal information to verify your identity.

What Information to Check

It is in your best interest to review your entire credit report. However, we especially recommend checking to ensure the following information is accurate:

  • Name, SSN, address and employer discrepancies
  • Inquiries you didn't initiate
  • Accounts you didn't open
  • Unexplained debts on legitimate accounts

If inaccuracies exist, you lose any personal information or you suspect identity theft, notify all three credit bureaus immediately via telephone and in writing.

How to Get Help

For more information on protecting your identity and steps to take if your identity has been stolen, please refer to the FTC's ID Theft Web site at www.consumer.gov/idtheft. Of course, contact your credit card companies and financial institutions immediately.


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