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Steps to Take to Protect Yourself

October 31, 1998|KATHY M. KRISTOF

What can you do to protect yourself from identity fraud--and where can you go for help if you've been victimized?

* Shred or burn any papers with financial information and identifiers, such as account numbers or your Social Security number. Never simply throw these documents in the trash.

* Use passwords other than maiden names on accounts.

* Don't put your Social Security number on any document unless it is legally required.

* Check your credit report regularly--ideally, once or twice a year--and make sure that you recognize all the entries.

* Take your name off promotional lists operated by credit reporting agencies and credit grantors.

* If you find you have been victimized, immediately call all the credit bureaus and put a fraud watch on your account. Also have them send you a free copy of your credit report--they're required to do so when you've been victimized by credit fraud.

* File a police report. You're likely to need it when disputing charges with various creditors.

* Then start writing letters to have erroneous and fraudulent items removed from your credit report.

* If you need help constructing these letters or figuring out what to do, there are several Web sites that can help. Laguna Niguel attorney Mari Frank's site, which offers her "Identity Theft Survival Kit" as well as free form letters, is at http://www.identitytheft.org. Bob Hartle's Web page, at http://www.idfraud.com, offers tips and information about his book, which is a personal account of his ID theft experience and how he got law enforcement--and lawmakers--to take notice. The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse and the California Public Interest Research Group also offer Internet-based tips at http://www.privacyrights.org and http://www.pirg.org/calpirg/consumer/privacy.

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