OPINION: Protect Yourself Against Identity Theft - Southern Maryland Headline News

OPINION: Protect Yourself Against Identity Theft

By Maryland Senator Roy Dyson

I am hearing numerous concerns from constituents as well as a slew of news stories about identity theft recently. I have written about this issue before and will continue to do so, because it is a very real and serious threat.

I was one of the first legislators in Maryland to introduce a successful bill that would make it illegal to use people’s Social Security numbers on documents that the general public would be privy too see.

I introduced this legislation because the issue of identity theft was still a relatively new crime. Throughout the process of trying to get my bill passed into law, I heard horror stories about people who had been victimized by this process.

Unfortunately, while I am very pleased with the bill I was able to get passed, these clever thieves have figured out new ways to steal one’s identity. Imagine if the above mentioned constituent had not received or opened up their credit card statement. A would-be thief could have easily had immediate access to this person’s credit card number and written a check for any amount they may have wished and immediately wiped my constituent clean of their balance.

Fortunately, the Maryland General Assembly and Attorney General Doug Gansler’s office have taken this issue very seriously and are doing everything in our power to protect you against this despicable practice.

The Attorney General’s website (www.oag.state.md.us) is an excellent resource for a number of consumer protection tips.

As for identity theft, there are several ways to address identity theft if you are or believe you will become a victim.

The first action you must take is to immediately place a fraud alert on your credit reports and review them as well. The three credit reports in which to report fraud are: Equifax (800) 525-6285; Experian (888) 397-3742 and TransUnion (800) 680-7289. You can order a copy of your credit report for free from Equifax by calling (800) 685-1111 or their website: www.equifax.com; Experian (888) 397-3742 or their website: www.experian.com; TransUnion (800) 888-4213 or their website: www.transunion.com.

If you do not get a favorable response from these credit bureaus do not hesitate to contact the State of Maryland’s Division of Financial Regulation at (410) 330-6830.

Another action you should take if you become an identity theft victim is to go to the police. Under Maryland law, local police have state-wide jurisdiction over identity theft crimes.

The Attorney General’s office advises you to “Be persistent!” since some police departments have been known to refuse to write reports on such crimes. Give the police officers as much documentation as you have. Get a copy of the police officer’s report and keep the phone number of the fraud investigator handy. Give this number to creditors and others who require verification of your case such as credit card companies and banks that may require this information in order to verify a crime.

There is much more information to be had on the Attorney General’s website. Simply go to it, click on the link “Protecting Consumers” then click “Consumer Tips and Publications” and you will find a link to identity theft. The tips range from how to deal with creditors, debt collectors, stolen check and fraudulent bank accounts, ATM cards, fraudulent change of address, Social Security number misuse, phone service, driver’s license number misuse, victim statements, false bankruptcies, criminal records and legal help.

The final hint on the website is “Don’t give in.” Do not pay any bill or portion of a bill which is a result of identity theft. Do not cover any checks which were written and/or cashed fraudulently. Do not file for bankruptcy. Your credit card should not be permanently affected and no legal action should be taken against you. If any merchant, financial institution or collection agency suggests something else, don’t allow yourself to be bullied into paying any bills for which you are not responsible.

On a side note, Hurricane Season has just started for 2007. There are all kinds of predictions about how good or bad it will be. I pray that it will be a good and safe season for all of us. But, believe it or not the hurricane seasons in the past have resulted not just in destruction of property and loss of life, but people’s personal information got out to identity thieves as well. Make sure you keep all of your valuable information in a safe and accessible place if you have to flee your home in case of a hurricane or tornado.

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