By now, you’ve heard from your elders that credit cards can really get you into trouble. And you can shrug off this advice and say you’ve heard it all before, but we’re talking about a different kind of trouble than thousands and thousands of dollars in debt.
Let’s face it: as a college student, you can sometimes be…forgetful. Whether you abandon your purse at your library study spot for an hour while you call your mom for a quick chat or accidentally leave your wallet behind at your late-night eatery, it’s more than likely that at some point, your credit card, driver’s license and maybe even your social security card (by the way, DON’T keep your social security card in your wallet or purse – keep it at home!) will be in someone else’s hands.
You can hope that it will be found by a nice person, but what if someone not so nice picks up your purse or wallet – and then uses your information for him or herself? What if they take on your identity? And not in a Parent-Trap-let’s-switch-identities kind of way.
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defines identity theft as “the illegal use of someone else's personal information (as a Social Security number) in order to obtain money or credit.” In a case of identity theft, someone would take your information and open credit cards or take out a loan in your name.
So if it happens to you, how do you fight it?
1. Place a fraud alert on your credit reports.
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According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
, “fraud alerts can help prevent an identity thief from opening any more accounts in your name.” Setting up a fraud alert is easy – you just have to contact one of the three companies in the country that will place a fraud alert on your account. Once you contact one of these companies, they will contact the other two – making it a little easier for you.
• TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289; www.transunion.com
; Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834-6790
• Equifax: 1-800-525-6285; www.equifax.com
; P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374- 0241
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• Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742); www.experian.com
; P.O. Box 9554, Allen, TX 75013
2. Close accounts that have or might have been opened through your stolen identity.
Speak with someone at the bank or credit card company where accounts or debits were fraudulently made, preferably someone within the security department. They will give you the opportunity to dispute these charges and hopefully get all of your money back.
3. File a police report.
Wherever the theft took place, whether on or off-campus, file a report with the police. More than likely, they will never find who stole your purse and took your identity, but filing a report will help you deal with the security departments at banks and credit card companies. They’ll know that your claim that your wallet or purse was taken is legit.
4. File a complaint with the FTC.
This last step will enable the Federal Trade Commission to track down identity thieves and prevent them from doing any further damage. You can file a complaint through these outlets:
• Online: www.ftc.gov/idtheft
• Phone: 1-877-IDTHEFT (438-4338); TTY: 1-866-653- 4261
• Mail: Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20580
A stolen identity situation, especially if it happens while you’re in college, can be scary. But by taking the right precautions, you can have the matter and your name cleared. Just be careful where you leave your purse or wallet, who you give your information to as well as where you provide your info over the phone (i.e. in line for coffee or in the student lounge). Taking basic precautions can prevent you from ever having to clean up the mess that someone else made in your name.