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Common sense can outwit thieves

PERSPECTIVE • Identity theft is on the rise, and it definitely can happen to you

No one ever imagines it can happen to them. I'm here to tell you it can Ñ in the blink of an eye. I'll never again scoff at the TV commercials about identity theft: They serve as an important reminder that you can never be too careful.

I grew up in a community where people didn't lock their doors at night. Good heavens, they even left the keys in the ignition of their vehicles. When I relocated to the 'big city,' I moved to Tigard. To me, it had that safe feeling, just like home.

Recently, while I dashed into a shop on Main Street, I left my purse and briefcase on the floor of my vehicle. I thought my doors were locked behind me, and, besides, I was only going to be a minute. After my errand, I calmly drove the short distance to my home and when I went to retrieve my purse, it was gone. So was my briefcase.

I called the police immediately, and while I was waiting for an officer to return my call and take a report, one of my credit card companies called to inquire about the sudden use Ñ five times Ñ of what had been an inactive card. This was all in the span of less than 30 minutes. I had the card immediately blocked. My next phone call was to my bank to stop those accounts from being accessed.

I learned a great life lesson from my carelessness. I now feel obligated to tell family, friends and acquaintances how to take precautions against identity theft. To avoid becoming a victim, take the following actions:

1. Never carry large amounts of cash in your wallet.

2. Never carry all of your credit cards or your personal identification number in your wallet.

3. Keep a list of your credit card companies, account numbers and 24-hour credit card phone numbers in a safe place in your home. A locked drawer or safe is a good idea Ñ someplace handy in case you need the information quickly.

4. Call or go online immediately when you become aware that your credit cards are lost or stolen. Do not wait until the next business day.

5. Do not use any PIN that resembles your Social Security number, birth date or any other number that is accessible to a would-be thief.

6. Do not carry your passport with you unless you are traveling or need it for a specific reason. Leave it locked in a safe place at home.

7. Do not carry your Social Security card in your wallet.

8. Call or go online to one of the big three credit reporting bureaus and report your Social Security number if the lost card was in your wallet or if the number appears on a medical card. You need only report to one bureau; it will report to the other two.

9. The credit reporting bureaus also recommend that you contact your utility companies. This was a new one to me, but I took that precaution as well.

10. Go immediately to your bank and close any accounts that might have been accessed and reopen new accounts. Have the bank hold the new checks for you to personally pick up. Do not have them delivered to your home. You will need to bring proof of identification with you. It also might be helpful if you have a copy of the police report.

11. If you have automatic withdrawals from your accounts, you need to contact those companies and have the withdrawal suspended until your new accounts are opened. This usually takes seven to 10 business days. There also may be a fee involved.

12. Obtain a new driver's license if yours was stolen. Be sure to take a copy of the police report as proof for needing a replacement license.

13. Have your home mail held at the post office for pickup by you personally. Even if you have a locking mail box, this is still a good idea. Remember, your credit cards, bank cards and checks are all being reissued, and the thief knows where you live. They can easily wait for your new account information to arrive and take it from your mail box.

14. Never carry a spare key to your vehicle in your wallet. Again, they know where you live.

D.L. Wise is a records manager with the law firm Dunn Carney et al. She grew up in Enterprise and lives in Tigard.