Ensure You Are You: Take an Afternoon to Protect Your Identity

Defending yourself against phishing is not hard to learn. What really is at stake, however, is your identity. Here's how to protect yourself against identity theft.

Check Your Credit Reports

The easiest way to keep an eye on your identity and prevent thieves from using it is to check your credit report frequently with the credit bureaus in your country. Credit bureaus are for-profit organizations that keep track of the credit ratings of individuals and corporations.

Each time a financial institution does a sizeable financial transaction with someone, they post the experience with the credit bureaus. This allows the bureau to build a credit profile of every borrower, so that in future when a lender wants to determine a credit worthiness of a borrower, he has a credit history he can check against.

It's worth checking your credit record quarterly because you can see which lenders have posted activity on your profile. If there's been an application for credit that you don't remember making, it is likely that you might be a victim in the making.

Some credit bureaus send you a free credit report once a year if you write to them, as mandated by law. If you check your credit online or more frequently, there's usually a nominal fee.

United States

Here's a list of the three credit bureaus in the USA.

  • Equifax 1-800-685-1111; www.equifax.com

  • Experian 1-888-EXPERIA (397-3742); www.experian.com

  • TransUnion 1-800-888-4213; www.transunion.com

In the United States, you can order your free annual credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com or by calling 877-322-8228. You can also request it by mail. More info is at www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/edcams/credit/ycr_free_reports.htm.


In Canada, the two credit bureaus are

  • Equifax 1-800-465-7166 or 514-493-2314; www.equifax.ca

  • TransUnion 1-866-525-0262 or 905-525-0262; In Quebec, 1-877-713-3393 or 514-335-0374; www.tuc.ca

One free annual credit report is available for each person from each credit bureau by sending a request by mail.

United Kingdom

In the U.K., credit reports are available from three credit reference agencies:

  • Experian 0870 241 6212; www.experian.co.uk

  • Callcredit 0113 244 1555; www.callcredit.co.uk

  • Equifax www.equifax.co.uk

More information on identity theft in the United Kingdom is available from the Home Office Identity Fraud Steering Committee at www.identity-theft.org.uk.


In Australia, the three credit reporting agencies are

  • Baycorp Advantage (02) 9464 6000; www.baycorpadvantage.com

  • Dun and Bradstreet (Australia) Pty Ltd 13 23 33; www.dnb.com.au

  • Tasmanian Collection Service for Tasmanian residents (03) 6213 5599; www.tascol.com.au

More information on identity theft in Australia is available from the Australian Government Attorney General's Department at www.ag.gov.au.

If Your Country Is Not Listed

If you live in a country other than the ones previously listed, you can very easily find information about identity theft and the credit bureaus that service your area by contacting your bank, financial advisor, or government information line.

Shred It Before You Chuck It

Be careful what you throw out. Even though the Internet can be a happy hunting ground for identity thieves, they also prowl the real world as well. If you chuck out mail, documents, and other paper records, be sure to shred them before they go in the bin. Your garbage is ripe for the picking in more ways than one.


Ideally, you want to destroy your documents into tiny pieces, so they can't be reassembled easily. Straightcut shredders slice paper into strips and are less secure than cross-cut shredders that cut across two axes so the document becomes confetti. Cross-cut shredders are slower and require more maintenance.

Read Your Statements

It's not great literature, but it's worth reading every credit and bank statement you receive as it comes in. A vast majority of identity theft victims don't discover the problem until months have gone by. Early warning signs show up as weird or unexpected line items on bills or statements.

The Absolute Minimum

  • Identity theft is the use of your personal and financial information to apply for credit in your name without your permission or knowledge. It is also the illegal use of your existing credit.

  • Guard your personal information, especially identifying documents. Do not fill out unnecessary applications or provide information to unfamiliar people or organizations you don't trust. Simplify your accounts and credit cards and destroy paper documents with a shredder. Keep an eye on your credit reports annually. Look at them quarterly if possible.

  • Thieves steal your identity by acquiring personal information about you and building up enough data to apply for an identity document. They then use this to apply for credit in your name.

  • You know you're a victim when credit reports show accounts you did not authorize. Strange transactions appear on financial or credit card statements. Credit you apply for is declined. You are pursued by a collections agency to pay a debt you haven't incurred. You are accused of a crime or traffic offense you did not commit.

  • If you have been victimized, file a police report, close tainted accounts, and place a fraud watch with the credit bureaus. Document the process. File an identity theft report with the FTC in the United States or the appropriate government body in other countries .

  • Phishing is an electronic method of fooling you into providing personal and financial information to a crook on the Web. It's most commonly perpetrated by email, but information can also be solicited using a pop-up window on the Web.

  • Pharming is an attack on special network computers called DNS servers that direct traffic on the Internet. These data traffic cops are poisoned with incorrect information so when a web surfer asks to be directed to a specific website, they are unknowingly sent to a crook's site.

  • Avoid any too-good-to-be-true offers of quick money and skip any communication with strange Nigerians that need dubious help. It's a scam to get money out of you. These schemes are called advanced fee fraud. Nigeria is commonly used as a cover story, but they are perpetrated from all over the world.

  • Your bank or other financial institutions will never request verification of user IDs, passwords, or other personal information through email. If in doubt, contact the institution.

  • If you do send personal information via a financial website, be sure to first type in the company's web address into your browser manually. And check to see if the site is secureindicated by a closed lock symbol at the bottom on your web browser and https :// in the web address bar.

  • Be alert to misuse of your identity by regularly checking your credit reports with the national credit bureau in your country.

  • Keep your antivirus and anti-spyware programs up-to-date and scan your system regularly. This protects you from key loggers and Trojan horses that can capture your personal information and send it to crooks on the Internet.

  • Keep your computer's operating system up-to-date. And ensure that any fixes issued for your email program and web browser are installed.

  • Guard your offline information as well. Read your financial and banking statements and shred mail and documents before putting them in the trash.

Absolute Beginners Guide To. Security, Spam, Spyware & Viruses
Absolute Beginners Guide to Security, Spam, Spyware & Viruses
ISBN: 0789734591
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2005
Pages: 168

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