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September 16, 2008
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Today's Life Solutions  
Today's Life Solutions / Family / ARA Content

Take Steps to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft

September 5, 2008

(ARA) - Have you ever left your purse unattended in a public place or thought you lost your wallet, only to find it later in a gym locker? If so, you probably thought to yourself, 'Phew -- that was a close one. Good thing I found it.'

At the time, you may have thought you were pretty lucky, especially if your wallet was intact. But unfortunately, the exact opposite may be true. Chances are you unknowingly fell victim to the fastest growing crime in America that day - identity theft.

'Back in December 2002, I had inadvertently left my purse on a bench in the locker room at work for a while. I didn't think anything of it until a few weeks later when I needed my Social Security card, which I kept in my wallet, and couldn't find it,' says Colorado resident Noemi Ramos.

Since nothing else was missing from her purse except the card, Ramos assumed she had just misplaced it, and eventually went to the Social Security Office to get another copy. It wasn't until 4 years later that she learned that her identity had been stolen that day.

'I received a letter in the mail from the I.R.S. saying I owed back taxes on wages I had supposedly earned at a hotel I had never heard of before,' says Ramos. Turns out working under her Social Security number wasn't the only crime the imposter had committed. She had also gotten a driver's license with her picture and Ramos' information on it, and even bought a house in Puerto Rico.

Between January and December 2007, Consumer Sentinel, the complaint database developed and maintained by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), received over 800,000 consumer fraud and identity theft complaints resulting in more than $1.2 billion in losses. Credit card fraud (23 percent) was the most common form of reported identity theft, followed by phone or utilities fraud (18 percent), employment fraud (14 percent) and bank fraud (13 percent). Other significant categories of identity theft reported by victims were in the areas of government documents/benefits fraud (11 percent) and loan fraud (5 percent).

Once Ramos discovered she had been victimized in several of those areas, not only did she feel violated, she felt overwhelmed by the task of figuring out how to repair all the damage the imposter had done. So she turned to ID Watchdog, an identity theft advocacy company that provides consumer-based solutions for the protection, detection, and resolution of identity theft cases.

The company's vice president of operations, Rick Lunstrum, explains what they did for Ramos. 'Using our proprietary ID monitoring system, we tracked down all instances in which her identity had been fraudulently used, then went to work repairing the damage.'

First they helped her put together an identity theft certification package that includes all the required legal documents confirming that identity theft has occurred. Then they forwarded the information to the I.R.S. so investigators there could begin their own investigation. Lunstrum estimates that over a month-and-a-half period of time, it took between 5 and 8 hours of phone calls, letter writing and trips to the post office to send out documents to resolve the problem. 'As for the house in Puerto Rico, we're still working on that.'

In Ramos' case, no credit cards were issued in her name, which is a good thing because those would have been more difficult to resolve. 'When it comes to financial identity theft, most of the time the victim doesn't even know their information has been misused until months or even years later when they get turned down for credit and run a credit report to find out why,' says Lunstrum. 'At that point not only do they have to deal with a collections agency, but the original credit card company as well. Settling these cases requires a lot of time and effort, which many people don't have. That's why they turn to us.'

You don't have to wait until something bad happens to take steps to protect your good name. Log on to www.IDWatchdog.com today and fill out a quick form to receive your free 15-day trial of their identity monitoring service. During this time, the company will provide you with a free identity report, showing all the addresses associated with your name. If there are any you don't recognize, ID Watchdog will fix the problems for free.

Customers also get 1-on-1 help from identity theft experts, like Rick Lundstrum, who can help them resolve their cases quickly.

Copyright © 2008, ARAnet, Inc.
 
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