“Forewarned, forearmed; to be prepared is half the victory”
-Miguel de Cervantes
Imagine my utter surprise recently when I discovered that I own a business, a 2011 BMW, a condominium in downtown Detroit, and have a 715 credit score! The reality is that I rent a home, my credit score is not in the seven hundreds, and don’t own a vehicle. I catch the bus.
In an instant I learned that I had become a victim of one of the fastest-growing crimes in the United States: identity theft.
The Back Story:
Less than a year ago my tax preparer contacted me to say that it was urgent for me to call this 1-800 number regarding my tax refund. The phone number was to the department of social security. The representative told me to immediately go to the nearest IRS agency. The next day I walked into the Comerica building on Woodward. The receptionist directed me to take the elevator to the fourth floor. Upon entering the IRS office, the guard asked me to take a number and have a seat, saying that someone would assist me shortly.
When “number twelve!” echoed from the loudspeaker, I walked over to an agent with a very infectious smile who asked, “How can I assist you?” As I stated my concerns, she began asking me a series of questions. As I answered them, the agent looked me in the eyes with a matter-of-fact expression and said that I had indeed been a victim of identity theft. She turned her computer monitor so we both could review the information that was displayed. All of it was false, down to sex of my child, whose name is now Destiny (I have a son). A flood of emotions came over me: anger, hurt, betrayal, and a host of others.
I left the IRS office promising that I was going to educate anyone and everyone that crossed my path, whether they were eleven years old or 92 (which was no joke; children and seniors are at higher risk of identity theft). So, true to my word, here are a few tips that can help keep you safe from identity theft.
- Request your credit reports from all three agencies that provide them. You can find information on how to request the reports at this website: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/credit/cre34.shtm. Check activity from at least a year back, preferably more.
- Shred any documents that have personal information such as your social-security number, birth date, home or work address, and debit or credit-card information (keep all of your receipts).
- Don’t give personal information over the phone or in public.
- Check these websites to help you protect yourself from fraud: http://www.identity-theft-awareness.com/, http://oig.hhs.gov/fraud/, http://www.lexisnexis.com/risk/fraud-detection-prevention.aspx.