Advice from an attorney on how to prevent identity theft

There’s an email going around with an attorney’s advice for preventing identity theft. I think I’ve received it a few times, but now that I’m a victim of identity theft, these types of things really hit home.

After reading what is outlined below, I have to say I wholeheartedly agree.

I think every person should have a fraud alert on his or her credit report, regardless. And I’m contemplating asking the three credit bureaus to put a freeze on my credit altogether. I heard about that recently on NPR: that it’s now possible to close your credit report from all inquiries and new accounts. The only drawback to this approach is if you needed credit for something, you’d have to time the inquiry and new account set-up in conjunction with removing the freeze. It’s a bit more of a hassle, but I think it’s worth it.

Not having an alert or freeze on your credit report is like having no password on your Internet banking account.

I think the day will come when our government will require some type of password, either biometric or otherwise, for anyone to access a credit report. And I’ll support that.

So, if you’re interested, here’s what I was emailed recently by my father-in-law: advice from an attorney on how to prevent identity theft . . .


Do not sign the back of your credit cards. Instead, put “Photo ID Required.”


When you are writing checks to pay on your credit card accounts, do not put the complete account number on the for line. Instead, just put the last four numbers. The credit card company knows the rest of the number, and anyone who might be handling your check as it passes through all the check processing channels won’t have access to it.


Put your work phone number on your checks instead of your home phone. If you have a PO Box, use that instead of your home address. If you do not have a PO Box, use your work address. Never have your social security number printed on your checks. You can add it if it is necessary. But if you have it printed, anyone can get it.


Place the contents of your wallet on a photocopy machine. Do both sides of each license, credit card, etc. You will know what you had in your wallet and all of the account numbers and phone numbers to call and cancel. Keep the photocopy in a safe place. I also carry a photocopy of my passport when I travel either here or abroad. Unfortunately, I, an attorney, have firsthand knowledge because my wallet was stolen last month. Within a week, the thieve(s) ordered an expensive monthly cell phone package, applied for a VISA credit card, had a credit line approved to buy a Gateway computer, received a PIN number from DMV to change my driving record information online, and more.

Here’s some critical information to limit the damage in case this happens to you or someone you know:


We have been told we should cancel our credit cards immediately. But the key is having the toll free numbers and your card numbers handy so you know whom to call. Keep those where you can find them.


File a police report immediately in the jurisdiction where your credit cards, etc., were stolen. This proves to credit providers you were diligent, and this is a first step toward an investigation (if there ever is one).


But here’s what is perhaps most important of all: (I never even thought to do this.) Call the three national credit reporting organizations immediately to place a fraud alert on your name and also call the Social Security fraud line number. I had never heard of doing that until advised by a bank that called to tell me an application for credit was made over the Internet in my name. The alert means any company that checks your credit knows your information was stolen, and they have to contact you by phone to authorize new credit.

By the time I was advised to do this, almost two weeks after the theft, all the damage had been done. There are records of all the credit checks initiated by the thieves’ purchases, none of which I knew about before placing the alert. Since then, no additional damage has been done, and the thieves threw my wallet away this weekend (someone turned it in). It seems to have stopped them dead in their tracks.

Here are the numbers you always need to contact about your wallet, if it has been stolen:

Equifax: 1-800-525-6285

Experian (formerly TRW): 1-888-397-3742

Trans Union : 1-800-680 7289

Social Security Administration (fraud line): 1-800-269-0271

If you are willing to pass this information along, it may really help someone that you care about.

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