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February 15, 2002

A reader has provided some good column fodder. She says: “We pass along jokes, we pass along just about everything. This information could really help someone.” Here’s her story: “A corporate attorney sent this to his employees. We’ve all heard horror stories about fraud that’s committed using your name, address, social security number, credit account numbers, and so forth. Unfortunately, the author of this piece had firsthand knowledge. His wallet was stolen last month. Within a week the thieve(s) ordered an expensive monthly cell phone package, applied for a credit card, had a credit line approved to buy a computer, received a Personal Identification Number (PIN) from the Department of Motor Vehicles to change his driving record information online, and more. Here are his suggestions:

“Place the contents of your wallet on a photocopy machine; do both sides of each license, credit card, and the like. If your wallet is stolen, you will know what you had in it plus all of the account numbers and phone numbers to call and cancel. Keep the photocopy in a safe place. If you have a scanner on your computer, you can scan them and store them on a floppy, not just on your hard drive.

“But here’s some more critical information to limit the damage in case this happens to you or someone you know. As everyone always advises, cancel your 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 easily. File a police report immediately in the jurisdiction where it was stolen. This proves to credit providers you were diligent and it’s a first step toward an investigation (if there is one).

“Here’s what is perhaps most important: Call the three national credit reporting organizations immediately to place a fraud alert on your name and social security number. I had never thought of doing this 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 the company has 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 in their tracks. The numbers are: Equifax – 1-800-525-6285; Experian (formerly TRW) – 1-888-397-3742; and Social Security Administration (fraud line) – 1-800-269-0271.”

This information may be valuable to you if your wallet is stolen. It’s better to be prepared than to wish you had done something before the fact. Be careful out there!