Our government is working hard to reassure us that identity theft is a figment of our imaginations, but if you’re a victim in one of those not-so-imaginary crimes, there are proactive steps you can take.
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I recently had several conversations with Shaun Callahan of The Identity Protection Company. I talk with identity protection companies nearly every day of the week, but Shaun and his company came across more personal than most. First, almost none of our conversations discussed his business or how I could drive more business his way (which is the route these conversations take 90 percent of the time). Shaun talked about how he got into the business (assisting others facing insurmountable damage due to identity theft), and he spent nearly all of his time talking about the steps anyone could and should take to minimize the damage.
Shaun practices the shareware model of education. He runs several Web sites that offer steps to prevent and recover from identity theft. All his information is free. He figures that although most consumers will read his information and follow his advice, a few will figure it’s easier to let his company do the laborious leg work. Shaun even said that I could reprint all his advice without including a single link to his company. Either he’s practicing a hopeful form of reverse psychology or he genuinely cares about solving the problem. In case it’s a successful implementation of the former, some of his Web sites include Hello My Name is Protected and Free Credit Reminder.com.
Here’s some of Shaun’s advice:
-- Keep a list of all credit/debit/ATM card and financial accounts with contact numbers in a safe place so you can make quick contact.
-- If you’ve a victim, don’t procrastinate. If you think your information has been lost or compromised, act immediately.
-- Be able to prove you are a victim. The two most important things creditors will ask for are a police report and an ID Theft Affidavit. Have copies of both of these available for every creditor you contact.
-- Keep notes on everything. Most companies aren’t out to get you, but many have very poor customer service, and not all customer service reps keep accurate notes in their databases. Make sure your notes include dates, names, and conversations. Follow up all of your phone calls with a certified letter so you have a paper trail.
-- Eyeball your credit, either through a credit monitoring service or for free at AnnualCreditReport.com. We recommend alternating between the three credit bureaus every four months. You are entitled to one free report per service per year.
Note: AnnualCreditReport.com is a government-mandated, free credit report service, but it has a reputation for aggressively navigating visitors into fee-based services. Instead, Shaun says to use his auto-reminder service, FreeCreditReminder.com. It will send you an e-mail reminder every four months to go get your next free report. Shaun spent five minutes promising me that he doesn’t use this link to mine customers for his fee-based site.
-- Finally, ask for help. If you think you might be a victim of identity theft, or you know you were victimized, Shaun's company offers services that can help you.
So, if you get caught up in one of those all-too-real nightmares, arm yourself with this advice. It can make life after identity theft just a little bit easier.