Neighbor to Neighbor: Be careful to protect your most vital asset

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What would your answer be if someone asked you to state your most valuable asset? Your home? Your business? Your jewelry? Your vehicle?

I suggest to you, it is none of those things. It is your good name — and there are many unscrupulous individuals who are ready, willing and able to steal that most valuable asset from you. This fairly new and vicious crime is called “identity theft.”

When it happens, the victim feels helpless and hopeless and very confused. How did it happen? Why did it happen?

It happens because some crafty individual may smooth talk you into giving away vital information, such as your Social Security Number, your credit card information, or bank account number. Guard all such private information. When that “friendly” call comes from an individual claiming to be a representative of your bank or credit card company saying, “Good morning, (your name). I don’t want to alarm you, but we have reason to believe someone else has found a way to access your bank account (or credit card). We need you to help us try to stop this fraudulent activity. Please give us your Social Security Number and your account number and we will get back to you.” HANG UP!

Call your bank yourself, and ask if they had, indeed, noted any problem. Report to them the details of the call that made you suspicious. If you have already received such a call, and you innocently gave the requested information, you may start receiving bills that you don’t recognize. They may be from some location where you have never set foot...and may never hope to do so. They are, at that point, your charges until you can prove they are not. Unlike the benefit afforded accused criminals — innocent until proven guilty — you, the victim, now must prove you are innocent of committing the crimes against yourself. It is a nightmare.

This is not the only way your private information may be stolen. The Internet has given swindlers a vast new tool to do their dirty work. Some companies that have your vital information may sell that information. Most unfortunately, Congress has made a law that requires an individual to notify a company or organization with whom they are in contact stating “Do not sell information about me to anyone".” That law should be changed to put in reverse — companies should have no right to sell or give out the information unless you first give them permission to do

If you become a victim of identity theft, IMMEDIATELY contact:

1. Secret Service Electronic Crimes, (212) 637-4500

2. Each of the three main credit-reporting bureaus: Experian, (888) 397-3742;

Equifax, (800) 685-1111; Trans Union, (800) 888-4213.

3. All credit card companies and banks

4. Postal inspectors, if bills or other transactions were sent through the mail, (212) 330-3844.

5. National Fraud Hotline, (800) 876-7060

6. Social Security, (800) 772-1213.

In our area, Social Security is located at 155-10 Jamaica Avenue, Third Floor (in the Federal Building at Parsons and Archer). If you feel you need a new Social Security Number, in the case of stolen identity, this may be possible. Go there early, (they are open from 7:30 a.m. until 4 p.m.), and take with you ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS CERTIFIED BY AN ISSUING AGENCY proving who you are, and explain what has happened to the Social Security agent (a supervisor, if necessary).

Even when you’re finally “a new you,” with all different I.D.’s, you’ll still probably be stuck with a tarnished credit rating, thanks to some crook with a lot of technical skills and no conscience.

If the person is caught and you are given the opportunity to prosecute, please do!

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