What Your Social Security Number Means to Your Financial Security

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December 19, 2008 LITTLE ROCK - This week the Federal Trade Commission released a report recommending five ways to help prevent identity theft and the misappropriation of Social Security numbers. Criminals obtain the SSNs of the victims they impersonate and use them to facilitate the opening of new accounts, gain access to existing accounts, commit medical identity theft, seek employment, and obtain government benefits. Last year alone, 8.4 million Americans fell victim to identity theft; thus, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel issued this consumer alert to advise Arkansans of the report and provide them with tips on how to better protect their identities. In its report to Congress, the FTC recommended the following five measures: 1) Improve consumer authentication, or make it harder for thieves to access one's account or open a new account under your name. 2) Restrict the public display and transmission of SSNs;3) Establish national standards for data protection and breach notification;4) Conduct outreach to consumers and businesses; and5) Promote coordination and information sharing on the use of SSNs. While Congress considers these recommendations, you can take steps now to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft. Here are some tips for minimizing the risks: - Protect your mail by mailing bills from a secure location and don't leave mail sitting in your mailbox. - Shred or otherwise destroy any statements, documents, or records, which contain personal information, like your SSN. - Do not keep information that you don't need in your purse or wallet. Specifically, do not carry your Social Security Card with you unless you know you will need it. Do not keep personal identification numbers attached to credit, debit or ATM cards. - Store important information in a safe place in your home, and do not leave financial records lying around your house for prying eyes to see. - Be safe online. Use anti-virus and anti-spyware software, as well as a firewall, and update them all regularly. Be sure to set up your operating system and web browser software properly, and update them regularly. Avoid using obvious passwords like your birth date, your mother's maiden name, or the last four digits of your Social Security number. - Never respond to an e-mail that asks you to transmit personal information over the Internet. Remember that your bank or credit card issuers already have your account numbers, PINs, access codes, passwords, Social Security number and other information they need. They won't e-mail you to ask for it. - Beware of giving personal information over the phone. Know who you are dealing with and when in doubt, hang up and get the business's phone number from an independent source. If you believe your identity has already been compromised, there are a number of steps you should take. First, review your bank and financial activity carefully. Make a list of any fraudulent charges, carefully noting the date and time of the charge and where the charge occurred, to isolate any patterns that may surface. Even if you have not had any warning signs, we recommend that you check your credit report regularly to monitor for evidence of potential identity theft. The law requires that the 3 major credit reporting agencies--Experian, Equifax and TransUnion--provide you with a free copy of your credit report each year upon request. Visit www.annualcreditreport.com to order your free copy. After following the above steps, gather all supporting evidence and file a police report. Remember to place a fraud-alert on your credit report by contacting the credit reporting agencies listed above, and cancel any accounts you believe have been compromised. Finally, you should file a complaint with the Public Protection Department of the Attorney General's Office by calling 501-682-2341 and file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission by calling 877-438-4338. For more information on identity theft and how to protect yourself, visit www.ProtectYourIDNow.org or www.ArkansasAG.gov/identity_theft.html.