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Tips on preventing identity theft

May 10, 2011

Question: I have a cousin who was recently the victim of identity theft and he had a terrible time repairing his credit. I'm going to buy a house soon and I know what steps to take to minimize the chances of identity theft happening to me. Even after knowing how to protect yourself, I wonder if there are some early warning signs that I am a victim of identity theft?

Answer: I am assuming the protective steps you mention have to do with keeping your financial information, passwords and Social Security number in a safe way. Even if you take all these steps, it could still happen to you. The damage to your credit caused by identity theft can take years to fix and you are right to be concerned, especially if you intend to purchase a house soon. There are some signs that can be an early warning that someone has tapped into your identity. Catching it early can help minimize damages.

The first sign of identity theft is frequent unexplained charges on your credit card statement. Investigate every charge and try to match each up with the credit card receipts you or your family members have signed.

One of the most common ways that people discover they are being victimized is to be turned down for credit unexpectedly. Check your credit report frequently, especially if you are turned down.

If you are suddenly unable to use your PIN, access codes or passwords, it may be that someone has obtained and changed them. Investigate immediately. This suggests that an identity thief may have changed your codes to access your accounts or information for his or her own use.

Not receiving routine monthly invoices may not be a good thing. It may mean that a thief has initiated change of address and that your financial information, including bank statements, are being forwarded to an address established by him or her.

Credit card companies have become more vigilant about unusual charges. If you are called by your credit card company to inquire if you made a charge, cooperate. Do not, however, give anyone who calls information about your accounts, passwords, Social Security number of financial information.

Your credit is an important factor in your life. Protect it carefully. Having good credit will make the purchase of your new house much easier. If you do encounter difficulty when buying your house, consider seeking the advice of a real estate attorney.

Attorney Sylvia Heldreth is a certified specialist in real estate law. Her office is located at 1215 Miramar St., in Cape Coral.

This article is not intended as specific legal advice to anyone and is based upon facts that change from time to time. Individuals should seek legal counsel before acting upon any matter involving the law.

4-23-11 Breeze



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