Protect your identity, protect your financial future

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

It’s a feeling that sends chills down your spine. You feel alone, confused, and angry. Unfortunately it is a feeling experienced by many people each year – it’s the feeling caused by identity theft. Claiming millions of victims each year, identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the United States. According to the Federal Trade Commission, identity theft affected nearly 10 million Americans last year.

As part of a nationwide grassroots consumer education outreach, Money Management International, the nation’s largest nonprofit credit and debt counseling and education agency, has partnered with the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) and other NFCC member agencies to offer financial education in recognition of Protect You Identity Week (PYIW), October 17 -24, 2008. Protect Your Identity Week is designed to help people gain access to free information on prevention and learn what steps to take if they find themselves a victim of identity theft.

To kick the week off, the financial experts at MMI offer the following tips to safeguard your personal information:

• Don’t leave your wallet or statements lying around—even at home.

• Don’t carry Social Security cards or anything with your Social Security number on it.

• Keep track of your credit card receipts and carbons.

• Never tell anyone your card number over the phone, unless you initiate the phone call.

• Never allow your credit card number to be used as identification.

• Collect your mail regularly and destroy unwanted credit solicitations.

• Monitor your credit statements.

• Visit AnnualCreditReport.com and review your credit report at least once a year. Report errors and inaccuracies immediately.

If you become a victim, acting quickly is the key to minimizing damage. Take these steps if you feel your identity has been stolen:

• File a police report.

• Immediately notify issuers of credit.

• Contact the fraud department of each of the credit reporting agencies to place a temporary 90-day Fraud Alert on your file.

• Monitor your credit file.

• Contact your local state Attorney General’s office, the Better Business Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission (877-IDTHEFT).

To learn more about protecting your identity or to find a theft prevention event near you, please visit www.ProtectYourIDNow.org.

At some point we’ve all fantasized about what it would be like to trade places with someone else. Well guess what, there’s someone out there who isn’t just fantasizing. They are taking great strides to obtain your identity.