Economics

   

Identity Theft

Consumer Fraud

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Thanks to the internet and more modern ways of banking, the opportunities for identity theft and consumer fraud to violate your rights have increased exponentially over the last decade.

 

According to the U.S. government the majority of fraud comes from credit card usage.

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While consumer fraud is no new issue (thieves have existed as long as markets have!), identity theft creates huge hassles for the victim and often the damage is done before the victim even knows they've been violated. Losing your identity has higher stakes today than before, but it has never been a trivial thing.

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Basic Steps to Avoid Risk

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  • NEVER use your Social Security Number as identification unless required to do so for tax purposes. Always try to use other numbers and never carry your card in your wallet.
  • Do not have several credit cards, every credit card you own opens you up to further opportunities for fraud and makes clearing up issues more time-consuming. And always keep the reporting numbers on each card accessible so you can report theft/fraud immediately
  • Shred personal, financial documents
  • Mail bills with checks from post boxes, not an unsecured mailbox
  • File a police report as soon as theft/fraud is detected.

 

Sources of Help

Keep the following numbers handy and check your credit regularly. The three major credit agencies are:

  • Equifax: 1-800-525-6285
  • Experian (formerly TRW): 1-888-397-3742
  • Trans Union: 1-800-680-7289
  • Social Security Administration: 1-800-269-0271 (you should check your account regularly to make sure it matches your activities)

These are some simple ways to protect yourself, that you can implement immediately. For an exhaustive list see the fact sheet, "Coping with Identity Theft: Reducing the Risk of Fraud," produced by the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. This site has other fact sheets to help you should you ever become a victim of identity theft. This site is particularly strong about providing sample forms to build a court case.

Another great source for helping you combat consumer frauds and scams is the Identity Theft Resource Center which has a great link to "recent scams." You should consider a regularized schedule for checking in with this site to see the latest scams fraud artists are up to. Forewarned is forearmed. (They also have a link for combating the fraud should you discover you've become a victim. This site is better for the short-term reaction, i.e. I just discovered the fraud and what to do. The PRC site is better about dealing with the long-term fallout issues.)

If you have become the victim of identity theft or consumer fraud, the best place to begin is with the Federal Trade Commission's website on the issue. There you can even download a fraud affidavit and file an FTC complaint. This site is a great beginning, but you should consider visits to the other sites for covering all your bases.

As with most things, an ounce of prevention is your best bet against fraud.

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