My F&M

Identity Theft

In this fast paced, iPhone, Facebook, daily credit card transaction world we live in today our personal information is available everywhere to be misused.  Per the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), identity theft strikes nearly 10 million victims each year in the U.S.  In fact, identity theft has become so prevalent that a whole new business has developed to help keep your identity safe.

The FTC defines identity theft as an event in which someone uses your name, Social Security number or credit card number without your permission.  The crime can take many forms including using an existing account, opening a new account or using your personal information for things such as obtaining a job or renting a house.

While identity theft is widespread, so much of what you can do to keep your information safe can be done for free with a little common sense. The following are a few things to consider:

  • Shred Financial Information – Use a cross-cut shredder before throwing away paperwork with personal information.
  • Social Security Number - Protect your Social Security number by not carrying it in your wallet and only provide it where necessary.  Ask to use another identifier when possible.
  • Personal Information - Don’t give out personal information on the phone, through the mail, or over the internet unless you know who you are dealing with.  If you have any doubt, hang up and contact the inquiring organization using contact information from a trusted source like a statement or phonebook.
  • Create a Secure Password - A password should not include obvious things like your birth date or the last four digits of your Social Security number.  It should include a mixture of numbers, capital and lower case letters and symbols when possible.
  • Antivirus and Antispyware Software – Make sure you have updated versions on any computer you use to access your accounts.
  • Review Credit Card & Bank Statements – These should be reviewed monthly for anything out of the ordinary.  If you do find something unusual you should immediately notify the financial institution.
  • Review your Credit Report – Check your credit report at or call 1-877-322-8228.  The law requires each of the three credit agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) to provide you a free credit report once per year, so consider ordering one every four months.  Your free credit report contains information about you, your accounts (past and present) and your bill paying history.  It does not include your credit score.  You can pay a small fee to get your credit score, but that is not necessary to verify your accounts.  If you see accounts that you don’t recognize or information that is inaccurate, contact the credit reporting agency and the information provider immediately.

Another thing to consider is an identity theft protection service.  In general these services attempt to prevent and detect identify theft by monitoring thousands of commercial databases, public records and the internet.  They alert you whenever their systems detect your personal information is being used.  If your information has been compromised, most reputable services will work with you to resolve the problem including contacting creditors.  Additionally, many services include a $1M warranty or guarantee for out of pocket costs (legal expenses, lost wages and private investigators) of restoring your identity.  Of course the devil is in the details; they do not cover funds that are stolen from you.

Ultimately there is no foolproof security; however, if you use these common sense steps you’ll have a good start.  Alternatively, if you don’t have the time or energy, or you would like additional peace of mind you may want to consider an identity theft protection service.  At $120 - $360 per year the cost is reasonable.  As all Identity Theft Protection Services are not created equal it’s preferable to stick with one of the more well-known services, and it’s important to do your homework so you understand what protection or assistance they really offer.

For additional guidelines on preventing identity theft and for detailed steps on how to respond and recover from identity theft visit