A new resource was unveiled last week in the battle to keep our private information private.
The Consumer Federation of America launched a website ( www.IDTheftInfo.org) that’s likely the most comprehensive site on the Web on identity theft. It was unveiled at a news conference Wednesday, and there appears to be something of value for anyone who might be familiar with identity theft (and that could be any of us).
The home page invites visitors to take a short quiz on identity theft; by taking it, you can see quickly what you know and what you need to know more about. From there, the navigation is easy.
There’s a variety of general information for consumers, furnished by the organizations that teamed up to create the website. Consumer Action maintains an ID Theft Library including education materials and teaching guides, to bring this basic but vital information to young consumers. There’s a report on child identity theft, aimed at helping parents prevent theft of their children’s unused Social Security numbers.
Some good, basic advice comes from Call for Action, an international network of consumer assistance and education agencies that team up with broadcasters to spread the word. A link to its website yields a laundry list of do’s and don’ts on identity theft.
Another partner in the site, the nonprofit Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC), offers advice about correcting misinformation on medical records. The Federal Trade Commission discusses the growing problem of medical identity theft and how to minimize the risk of that happening. According to one estimate, 1.5 million Americans lose an average of more than $20,000 repairing damage done by such thefts.
Another fast-growing problem is data breaches, which Consumer Action says rose 37 percent since last year. ITRC has annual reports on data breaches, and the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse–another nonprofit–maintains a chronology of data breaches.
The best advice may be the simplest: when in doubt, go back to the basics. The website has a wealth of free information about the nuts and bolts of keeping your identity safe and your personal and financial data out of the hands of thieves. We’ve covered many of these points in previous columns, but a few bear repeating:
• Keep your financial documents and other personally identifiable information out of public view.
• Review financial statements as soon as you receive them, and challenge charges you did not make. Shred those financial records when you no longer need them.
• Carry with you only those documents you really need. Leave your Social Security card, birth certificate, passport and the like locked up securely at home.
• Give out your personal information sparingly, only on secure websites and only to people and businesses you know and trust. Don’t give out information over cellular or cordless phones.
Here’s a cheering thought: the scam artists follow the news, too. They keep up on developments in catching their cohorts in crime, in an effort to stay one step ahead of the law. They’ll seize on any official action, such as a government rebate, and create a scam that seems to fit. One more sobering prospect: all of us who use the Internet create “digital dossiers” that stay with us for life … and beyond. More on that in a future column.
Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s membership-funded, nonprofit consumer organization. Individual and business memberships are available at modest rates. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for more information, write: Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, go to http://necontact.wordpress.com, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.