Monitor Credit Reports to Guard Against Identity Theft

San Diego, CA A generation or two ago we were admonished to see the dentist a couple of times a year for a checkup, see your physician at least once a year for a checkup and have your furnace filters and household smoke detector batteries checked twice a year. Now comes a new warning to check something else twice a year - your credit report. What are you to look for? Clues your Identity may have been stolen.

For the second year in a row, Identity Theft tops the list of consumer complaints to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) according to its annual report, detailing consumer complaints about identity theft, and listing the top 10 fraud complaint categories reported by consumers.

Amazingly, most people discover their identity has been stolen, after they have looked at their credit reports, when they see new accounts listed they did not open. Without the monitoring of credit reports, a couple of times a-year, consumers may learn of identity theft only when they are adversely contacted by creditors to make payments on unauthorized debts authorize or they are rejected for a loan.

The fallout for victims ranges from arrest for financial fraud - among other things, to having your driver's license revoked, to being sued, your being denied credit, insurance, a job or place to live. Worse, it can take up to seven, maybe ten years, just to set your records straight cautions the nonprofit Institute of Consumer Financial Education (ICFE), a nonprofit consumer oriented group based in San Diego, CA.

Identity theft and consumer fraud are at the top of the list, accounting for 43 percent of the complaints lodged in the FTC's Consumer Sentinel database. The number of fraud complaints jumped from 220,000 in 2001 to 380,000 in 2002, and the dollar loss consumers attributed to the fraud they reported grew from $160 million in 2001 to $343 million in 2002.

Identity theft happens when an opportunity arises. Thieves are not very particular to one's age either, if there is a credit/debit card number to be had. An alarming twist, according to US Banker magazine, is parents who are stealing the identity of their underage children for a variety of reasons. According to the FTC, about six per cent of Identity Thefts were committed by family members. ID theft, including, but not limited to, your Social Security (SS) number, driver's license, bank accounts, PIN numbers, credit/debit card numbers is a relatively quick and easy crime, which often goes unnoticed for months, sometimes up to a year or longer.

Some insurance companies are offering, on a limited basis, Identity Theft insurance as an add-on to a homeowners policy. VISA is also offering limited Identity Theft insurance coverage, which would pay up to $15,000 to cover the costs and lost work time associated with fixing your records, should you become a victim.

For more information about protecting against identity theft, visit the U. S. Government's Web site on ID fraud: http://www.consumer.gov/idtheft and the National Fraud Information Center at http://www.fraud.org.

To help with the monitoring of credit files, the ICFE is making available free 'credit file request' forms to consumers. Other helpful information on how credit files are created and maintained is also included. Now, if you are unemployed, on welfare, or have been denied credit , or had your identity stolen, your credit report is free, otherwise will cost $8 each, unless you live in a state which mandates a lower cost,

The free 'credit file request' forms have spaces for all the initial information needed by credit reporting agencies to locate your individual credit files. They also include the names, addresses and telephone numbers of the major credit reporting agencies operating in the United States. To obtain the free 'credit file request' forms and other credit file information send a 60 cent stamped, self-addressed envelope to: ICFE Credit File Request Forms, PO Box 34070 San Diego CA 92163-4070.

If you have been the victim of Identity Theft or if you have discovered mistakes in your credit files, the ICFE also publishes a "Do-It-Yourself Credit File Correction Guide, still available for only $10. Included are step-by-step instructions, answers to the most often asked questions, consumer credit rights, sample letters to use when communicating with the various credit reporting agencies about credit file questions and difficulties and much more.

Send $10 (+ $2 postage) to: ICFE Credit File Guide U.S. PO Box 34070, San Diego, CA 92163. Visa/MasterCard orders please call 619-239-1401. Learn more about the ICFE and the "Do-It-Yourself Credit File Correction Guide" by visiting the ICFE's web site at: http://www.icfe.info.