The FTC estimated that the average victim of identity theft will spend more than 200 hours and $1,400 to remove fraudulent accounts, according Julie Macc, a certified credit- and identity-theft legal consultant who recently spoke to members of the Silicon Valley Association of Realtors (SILVAR).
Preventing identity theft To help consumers better protect their credit, SILVAR shared the following safety tips from the National Association of Realtors, which has designated September as Realtor Safety Month.
• Don’t give out personal information via phone, mail or Internet. Scam artists are out there phishing for victims’ information by posing as representatives of banks, stores or government agencies.
• Shred financial documents and paperwork with personal information before you discard them, including unwanted credit card applications and convenience checks that come in the mail. To stop most preapproved credit card offers, call (888) 567-8688 and request that your name be removed from credit bureau marketing lists.
• Don’t carry your Social Security card in your wallet or write your Social Security number on a check.
• Never click links sent in unsolicited emails. Use firewalls, antispyware and antivirus software to protect your home computer. Enter personal information only on secure Web pages with “https” in the address bar and a closed padlock symbol at the bottom of the browser window.
• Regularly review financial accounts and billing statements. Look for charges you did not make. Be alert to mail or bills that do not arrive as expected, unexpected credit card account statements, denials of credit for no apparent reason or calls or letters about purchases that were not made. One of the best ways to protect yourself from identity theft is to monitor your credit history. You can get one free credit report every year from each of the three national credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian and Trans Union. To order free annual credit reports, call (877) 322-8228 or visit www.annualcreditreport.com. Reporting identity theft If you discover you are a victim of identity theft, you should:
• Call the security or fraud departments of each company where an account was opened or changed without your authorization. Follow up in writing and include copies of supporting documents.
• Use the “ID Theft Affidavit” available at www.ftc.gov to support your written statement.
• File a police report. It will help you work with creditors who may request documentation that a crime has occurred.
• Send the information to the three credit bureaus and ask them to put a freeze on opening any new accounts.
• Report the theft to the Federal Trade Commission online at www.ftc.gov/idtheft or by phone at (877) 438-4338.