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Consumer Advisory Bulletin-1999

Protect Yourself from "Identity Theft"

We call it "identity theft" when someone obtains important personal information -- such as your Social Security number or your bank or credit card account numbers -- to commit fraud or theft. An imposter might use your identity information to open fraudulent credit card accounts, secure deposits on cars or housing, create insurance benefits, or rob retirement earnings. It can be very difficult to untangle such problems.

Identity thieves might obtain crucial information by stealing from your mailbox, sorting through trash for discarded receipts or statements, using public records, or even spying for your PIN number at ATM machines or a telephone booth. What can you do?

Follow these tips to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft:

  • Never give your credit card number or other personal information over the phone unless you initiate the call and know you can trust the business.
  • Tear up papers with your personal information, such as bill statements and mail solicitations for credit cards. Always take ATM and credit card receipts.
  • When you order checks, consider removing extra information (soc. sec. no., date of birth, address, middle name) since checks can easily be lost or stolen.
  • Memorize your social security and PIN numbers and passwords. Don't carry extra credit cards, soc. sec. no., birth certificate, or passport unless essential.
  • Consider getting an "assigned" driver's license number from the DOT (instead of using your soc. sec. no.). These are available for non-commercial licenses. Assigned numbers work for most purposes that require a driver's license number.
  • Don't sign up for contests or sweepstakes, unless it's a local one that you trust. Whenever you give information -- to contests, subscriptions, charities, manufactur-ers, or organizations -- it may well be sold and reproduced in countless ways.
  • Consider asking that your personal information be deleted or kept private in public listings such as driver and motor vehicle records, the three major credit reporting bureaus, Direct Marketing Assn. solicitation lists, and telephone or city directories.

Please contact the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division for booklets on preventing identity theft (including details and addresses for keeping your information private) or on steps to take if you've been a victim. Write to the Consumer Protection Division, Des Moines, Iowa 50319, or call 515-281-5926.

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