Money Matters: Making sure there is only one of you buying for the holidays

While you may believe the world could benefit from a second you, it will be in your best interest there remains only one of you. Identity theft is one of the fastest growing problems our society has and it is a costly one. For those of you that have not experienced this crime personally or through a family member, it can easily take months to resolve if you are lucky.

You might be asking if it can really happen to you. The answer is yes! Regardless of how careful you are and the steps you may take, you could fall victim to this crime by happenstance or through targeted means. Today your personal and financial information is in any number of data bases and computer systems across the country. Both the state and the federal governments have your information for a variety of reasons including driver's licenses, professional licenses, unemployment claims, armed forces benefits and services, Social Security benefits, and taxes.

Corporate America probably uses your information even more frequently. Every company or investment paying you interest or dividends has your information. When you purchase or sell a home, the title company has your information as does many car dealers today. And then there are the marketing companies that slowly gather data from across the country and gradually build files on your purchasing, travel, credit histories, as well as the hobbies you may have an interest in.

I am certain the vast majority of these companies have taken adequate steps to safeguard this information. But breaches do occur as well as outright thefts. When these occur your financial information could be compromised. The breach can occur closer to home, such as the theft of a purse or wallet, or the theft of your mail. Criminals have also used high-tech devices to steal your magnetic information at the time you use your credit or debit cards. While there is little you can do personally to insure your information is not stolen from a bank or other institution, you can take steps to safeguard the
sources of information close at hand.

Below are some of the steps you should take personally to protect your identity:

  • Make sure your mail box is secure and mail is picked up soon after it is delivered-
  • Use a PO Box if your mail box cannot be secured-
  • Never throw away your credit card receipts in a public area and shred them if possible-
  • Obtain a personal shredder for your home to shred old documents with personal information-
  • Always match your charge receipts to your statements to assist in catching unauthorized use-
  • Review your credit report at least annually-
  • Add a credit watch service which will notify you when high activity takes place or when new accounts are opened-
    The havoc that can be poured upon someone that has had their identity stolen can be brutal. It can be something as simple as unauthorized charges on a credit card. New accounts can be opened with thousands being charged over a period of time and the thief paying only the minimum payment each month until the credit limit is reached. You could also be exposed to a criminal element should a new vehicle be purchased that is ultimately used in a crime or involved in an accident. No longer is this something that only happens to the other person.

Following are the phone numbers and web-sites to companies or services you may need:

  • Equifax Credit Information Services, Inc: 800-525-6285
  • Experian Information Solutions, Inc: 888-397-3742
  • TransUnion: 800-680-7289
  • Federal Trade Commission: 877-438-4338

Take the time and the few steps needed to protect yourself and your finances. Doing so, may help in making your Holiday enjoyable rather full of red tape and frustrations.

Would you like a response to a financial question? Send your question to Doug Horn, 115 W. Broadway, Maryville TN 37801. Be sure to mark your envelope Money Matters.

Doug Horn, CFP, is an area financial planner with more than 21 years financial experience and founder of Quality Financial Concepts, located in downtown Maryville on Broadway.

Doug Horn, CFP, Registered Investment Advisor in Tennessee and Texas and Registered Principal, Branch Office of and Securities offered through CUE Financial, Member NASD, SIPC.

© 2006 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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