Target: Your Social Security Number continued...
Experts say that this forecast is far too sunny. If someone is using your SSN, the system is supposed to register at least one other shared piece of data — a name, address, or birth date — before the thief's information shows up on your credit report. "The problem is that credit-bureau merging software makes mistakes, and even if you share just the SSN with another person, that could be enough to trash your credit," explains Edward Jamison, a California attorney who specializes in credit matters. "It's not a perfect system."
The Weeds expect a lifelong battle with Grace's number. But there has been progress. Lynette Weed said that two men who have used Grace's number are currently being investigated; if prosecuted, they could face a fine and possible prison time. "If there are court hearings, I plan to attend with Grace," she says. "I want to show these men that there was a real person attached to that number, a little girl who's going to have to clean up their mess later on."
How to Detect and Prevent ID Theft
The first step is simple: Get a free annual review of your family's credit reports. Here, seven other helpful tips
Medical ID Fraud
- Protect your insurance card as carefully as your credit cards. If it gets lost or stolen, alert your insurance company immediately and request a new number.
- Be selective about where you get care. Avoid clinics that advertise free exams; they may just want to copy your health insurance information.
- Carefully read over the explanation-of-benefits notices that your insurance company provides. Make sure you recognize the doctors' names and the dates of treatment — an unfamiliar provider is a big warning sign. If you rarely see your doctors, call your insurance carrier and ask for an annual summary of all procedures that were paid in your name.
Social Security ID Fraud
- Use a credit monitoring service (roughly $11 per month), which notifies you within 24 hours if there's unusual activity. Identity theft expert Frank W. Abagnale, author of Catch Me If You Can and Stealing Your Life, recommends PrivacyGuard, Equifax Credit Watch, and Identity Guard.
- Before you toss sensitive financial documents and those credit card solicitations that come in the mail, destroy them in a micro-cut shredder.
- Don't give out your SSN freely. "There's no reason the storage center or the dog pound needs to know your number," says Abagnale.
- Never answer unsolicited phone or e-mail messages about your accounts, even if they sound or look legitimate.