Heeney & Associates P.C.
Phone: 215-262-8707 Fax: 610-302-3062
103 Grandview Road, Boyertown, PA 19512

Identity Theft

Role-Playing: I want to pretend to be you

We have all heard of identity theft. Television advertisements warn of us the dangers with both serious and comical messages. More of us can claim to know someone who has their own identity theft horror story. Worse yet, more of us can tell our own horror stories. I even have my own story when someone got a hold of my debit card number two weeks before Christmas of last year. Thankfully, Santa Claus wasn?t the only alert person out there keeping track of naughty and nice people, for my bank contacted me the moment my records began to show suspicious spending activity. My bank was correct when they assumed that I don?t usually order expensive shoes from the former U.S.S.R. I don?t. Even then, the culprit was quick. By the time the bank had frozen my debit card number, the thief had whisked away approximately $800 of my hard-earned cash, spent on cell phones, cell phone accounts and Russian-made shoes. Fortunately, my bank reimbursed me the lost funds.

Despite the relatively happy ending, I looked into easy methods of preventing or mitigating another such scare. Enjoy.

  1. Always be aware of who gains access to your credit or debit card numbers when you use them. Some businesses use card readers which print your full card number on the store?s copy of the receipt, while blanking out all but the last four digits on your copy. Many people believe that the store?s copy of the receipt is identical to their own and walk away believing that no one has learned their card number that day. Always check the store?s copy of the receipt and decide whether you want a potentially disgruntled employee to have access to your money.
  2. I do not sign the back of my credit cards. I used to leave it blank to force vigilant cashiers to check for the driver?s license of any who might use my card if it were to be stolen. I took this idea one step further and now write ?PHOTO ID REQUIRED? on the back of my cards.
  3. When ordering products or services online, look to be sure that the website features security. Any reputable business with a well-designed website will utilize a form of Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) protocol, which encrypts your information and confirms the identity of the businesses? server before allowing your order to be checked out.
  4. Photocopy everything in your wallet, i.e, credit cards, driver?s license, social security card, etc. In the event your wallet is stolen, you will have all of the correct account information and emergency numbers all in one spot. Fast reaction time is important. Every minute you spend fumbling through old credit card bills for that telephone number so you can report your card as stolen, is another minute that the thief has to order her expensive, designer shoes from Russia.
  5. When you write your check to pay your monthly credit card bill, do not write out your whole credit card account number on the ??Memo? line. Just write in the last four digits of your credit card number. The credit provider already knows your full number and no one else needs to be aware of it.
  6. When ordering checks, only have your initials and last name put on them. If a thief finds herself in possession of your checkbook, she?ll have a harder time forging your signature without knowing what your full name is.
  7. Avoid putting a lot of personal contact information on your checks. Have your checks printed with your P.O. box instead of your street address. Have your checks printed with your work number, not your home telephone. Never have your Social Security Number printed on your check. Identity thieves thrive on information about you. The more they have, the easier they can fool your bank. The more they have, the easier than can gain access to other aspects of your life aside from your bank accounts.

What to do if your wallet or credit card is stolen?

1. Pull out your photocopies (which you would have if you followed my advice) and be on the phone with your credit card providers in minutes. Inform them that your card number is stolen and the security of your account has been compromised. You will want to cancel your cards ASAP and have your credit card provider or bank issue you a new account number.

2. Call the major, national credit reporting agencies without delay to submit a fraud alert on your credit card account numbers and social security number. This alert will prevent an identity thief from acquiring a brand, spanking new credit card account in your name.

Trans Union: 1-800-680-7289
Equifax: 1-800-525-6285
Experian: 1-888-397-3792
Social Security Administration Fraud Hotline: 1-800-269-0271

3. Finally, do not forget to file a police criminal complaint. You do want to see if this thief can be caught, don?t you? Further, do this immediately to show your credit card provider that you were diligent.

DISCLAIMER: This column is a service providing only general legal advice. The information is not meant to be acted upon without proper legal assistance. As with all such matters of the law, anyone requiring legal help is strongly encouraged to seek the aid of an attorney.

Copyright 2014 Heeney & Associates, a Boyertown, PA Law Firm.