How To Prevent Identity Theft - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

1/13/04

How To Prevent Identity Theft

His name is Bill Pyle. For the past few weeks, he's been paying employees of B&B Construction in Tyler. But Pyle says he's never heard of the company.

"I received overdraft notices that my account was being drawn on," Pyle, Kilgore resident, said.

That was the beginning of a paper trail leading to the bank's conclusion this was yet another case of identity theft. Pyle thinks it all started with a personal check written to a trusted vendor.

"The check was then taken and apparently scanned into a computer," Pyle said. "The code across the bottom, which is your routing number and account number, was placed on some bogus payroll checks."

Bogus checks from a bogus company, totaling nearly $9,000. Fortunately, Pyle was able to stop withdrawals from his bank and close his account. Not everyone is so lucky. And whether or not you lose money, authorities say you still end up going through a lot of headache.

"You have to get affidavits," Kay Robinson, President of the East Texas Better Business Bureau, said. "It takes months of your time."

Some simple precautions you can take when you go out begin with your wallet. Experts say don't carry your Social Security number with you or a checkbook when you go shopping. You shouldn't carry more than two credit cards, and whatever credit cards you do carry, you should always make a copy of the front and back of the card. We ran through some of these precautions with Pyle to see just how at-risk he was when he became an identity theft victim.

"Do you have new boxes of checks mailed to your home?" I asked.

"Unfortunately, yes," Pyle said. "We will change that soon."

"Have you ordered a copy of your credit report within the last two years?" I asked.

"No, but I will now," Pyle said.

But Pyle does shred his bank, credit, and tax information, although he doesn't use the recommended cross-cut shredder. One former identity thief says the number one way thieves steal is by sifting through people's trash. Your mailbox can also be a treasure chest for thieves.

"Instead of putting your checks with your stamped mail in your mailbox, we're suggesting that you take your mail to the post office, your bills," Robinson said.

There are no guaranteed safeguards, but closely watching your bank and credit card statements can help you catch red flags. It's safer to use direct deposit or electronic transfer for paychecks. You should opt out of receiving convenience checks from your credit card company's marketing department. And there's now a toll-free number you can call to remove yourself from mailing lists so you don't receive credit card applications: 1-888-567-8688.

Julie Tam, reporting.

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