Catch Me If You Can

On an average day, you probably write a check, use a credit card, make a cell phone call, throw out unopened junk mail, or apply for a credit card.  If you are like me, you don’t give these activities a second thought.  But, someone else may.  Simply by obtaining your personal information, such as your name, address, phone number, bank and credit card account numbers, and social security number, someone could falsely claim to be you.

We are starting to hear more and more about a new kind of crook, so-called “identity thieves.”  In a recently-released movie, “Catch Me If You Can,” Leonardo DiCaprio plays an adverturesome, creative teenager who managed to defraud banks out of millions of dollars by impersonating an airline pilot, a lawyer, and a doctor, just to name a few professionals.  The story was based on the exploits of a real life con man back in the 1960s.

Our modern day crooks are at least as creative and they have switched from holding up banks to using our good credit to run up enormous debt.  An identity thief does this by obtaining your personal information and opening credit card accounts in your name.  People whose identities have been stolen can spend months or years – and thousands of dollars – cleaning up their good name and credit record.  In the meantime, victims may be refused loans or even arrested for crimes they did not commit.

Can you completely prevent identity theft from occurring?  Probably not, but you can minimize your risk by better managing your personal information.  The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), working with other government agencies and organizations, has produced a booklet to help guard against and recover from identity theft.

One of the best ways to catch identity theft is to regularly check your credit record.  Order your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus each year and make sure all the information is correct.  Also, follow up with creditors if your bills do not arrive on time.  A missing credit card bill could mean an identity thief has taken over your credit card account and changed your billing address to cover his tracks.

If you’ve been a victim of identity theft, call the FTC’s Identity Theft Hotline toll-free at   1-877-438-4338.  They will advise you on how to deal with the credit-related problems that could result.  For further information, visit the ID theft website at:  www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft

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