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Bus driver victim of ID theft


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"Identity theft victim attacks credit tangle

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By Heather Yakin

Times Herald-Record

hyakin@th-record.com

Monticello – The trouble started up again for Jim Cheek in July.

"I got a letter in the mail about this Target thing, from a collection agency," he said.

Someone had charged more than $300 at a Target store in Ohio, using Cheek's name and personal information. Whoever opened the fake charge account even used his Social Security number. This steamed the hard-working, 57-year-old, who works as a chef at the Roscoe Diner and as a bus driver.

Someone stole his identity.

The Federal Trade Commission estimates that identity theft caused about $47.6 billion in losses to consumers and businesses from July 2002 to July 2003, with an average loss of $10,200 per victim.

The FTC says Cheek is one of about 3.2 million Americans who were victims of identity theft in that time.

Like most of the others, Cheek has no idea how scammers got his personal information. He first discovered he was targeted by scammers about six years ago, when he checked his credit report and found that a slew of fraudulent accounts had been opened in his name. His credit report, which had been a spotless litany of never late, on time, never late, on time, now listed delinquent accounts from Louisiana, Ohio, all over. Some were for thousands of dollars.

"I've never missed a payment on a bill," Cheek said.

He spent a great deal of time and effort: Calls to police, credit-card companies and credit reporting agencies and filling out affidavits. Eventually almost all of the fraudulent accounts were removed from his credit. He's still fighting an erroneous account from Verizon.

"It's a mess to get it straightened out," he said.

Unfortunately, Cheek's experience is typical for identity-theft victims, said Christine Pritchard, of the New York state attorney general's office.

"By and large, it takes consumers an enormous amount of resources and effort," she said. "Police reports, contacting credit-reporting agencies, clearing up judgments. Many consumers end up having to hire attorneys."

The cases are hard to prosecute because they often cross state or even national borders.

For consumers, the best defense against identity theft or fraud is caution – but there are no guarantees.

"The more that is out there with access to your personal information, the more likely that you'll become a victim of identity theft," Pritchard said.

That includes everything from the sweepstakes slip you fill out at the mall to your supermarket discount card. Both will be used for marketing, and marketing lists may be sold. The more lists you're on, the more eyes see your information, and the greater the chance that a pair of those eyes will belong to someone unscrupulous.

Identity theft can be more low-tech, too. Dumpster-diving, digging through trash for receipts that hold credit card or bank account info, is still a gem for crooks, said Jonathan Van Vlack, Ulster County's consumer affairs director. So don't toss receipts.

"I keep telling people," Van Vlack said. "Christmas is coming. Buy a shredder for someone."

Also, make sure you take your receipt when you're shopping, he said. Don't travel with more credit cards than you need. Be alert, because purse snatching rises during the busy shopping season. Watch credit card transactions. If the cashier takes your card below the counter, you don't know if the card's being swiped through a "skimmer," an electronic device that reads the card and stores the information.

However identity theft happens, the end is the same: Messed-up credit.

"Getting folks out from the monetary obligation is relatively routine at this point," Van Vlack said. "The problem for consumers is that your credit record is sullied, and getting that straightened out is not so easy."

Jim Cheek knows.

"This is my second time around," he said. "I don't intend to stop until this is straightened out."

Keeping your identity safe

Check your credit report annually:

Trans Union:

800-888-4213 or 800-916-8800

www.tuc.com

Experian National Consumer Assistance Center

800-331-4769

www.experian.com

Equifax Information Center

800-685-1111

www.equifax.com

If you're a victim of identity theft:

· Call the credit reporting agencies above.

· If a fraudulent account is opened, call the security department of the creditor or financial institution. If one of your accounts is accessed, do the same; consider closing the account. If you set up a new account, use a new password.

· File a report with your local police or the police where the identity theft took place. Keep a copy of the report.

· Call the NYS Attorney General's Consumer Help Line at 800-771-7755.

· Call the Federal Trade Commission's Identity Theft Hotline at 877-IDTHEFT (877-438-4338) or online at www.consumer.gov/idtheft."

http://www.recordonline.com/archive/2003/11/28/hyidenti.htm

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Thanks for all your help on this -

I think we all need to sit down and figure out the ramifications on the new credit laws. There will be big changes and some of our tried-and-true techniques may not work any more.

Here's a link to more info on it...

http://www.debt-consolidation-credit-repair-service.com/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=11177

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Thanks!

One provision of the new law is that credit card recites are not supposed to list the last 4 numbers of your credit card. This is to protect against identity theft.

You can help yourself out now by scribbling over the last 4 to 7 digits of credit card recites you have to sign.

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