Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Con Men's Best Get-Rich-Quick Opportunity: Identity Theft

--Important Do and Don't considerations when traveling the con men identity theft minefield

What we learn from history is that we do not learn from history. That's Identity theft. For some reason, these many horror stories appear to leave little or no impression on the public. Profoundly hard to understand.

We're sure you wouldn't drink a quart of milk just before riding a roller-coaster. You wouldn't enjoy the ride any more than you'd enjoy the response if you were to walk into a crowded bikers' bar and loudly yell, "You're all a bunch of pussies." We're sure that, on both counts, restraint would hold sway. In fact, you'd most likely flip to the other extreme. Why, then, at this other extreme,do so many people choose to live on the edge when it comes to guarding their identity against theft, when anyone can easily do so? This is one of the big riddles of modern life. A real puzzler. Too much restraint.

Look all around you. We all live in a highly commercialized world. This is a generally-accepted reality. Unfortunately, this very same stage of civilized advancement creates a throwback jungle to navigate, populated by con men at every turn. And, there we all are. Machete in hand, we must cut our way through this civilized thicket--every step of the way--carefully avoiding the headhunter identity thief hiding behind every bush.

Now, though, you can be the master of these shell games instead of the con men, move the peanuts around yourself. In past articles we've covered many of the essential defensive moves you can take. There are still more. Here they are:

> You don't want your credit status to be flypaper for con men. Review your consumer credit reports annually. Do this more frequently at the first hint of wrong-doing. It is important to know early in the game if anyone is opening accounts in your name without your consent. The 3 credit reporting agencies (and toll-free phone numbers) are:

Equifax, 800-525-6285. Experian, 888-397-3742, Trans Union, 800-680-7289.

> Never use your date of birth as a password. Same for your age. Too much help for the guessers. Using these dates would be like giving Bonnie and Clyde "his" and "her" shotguns.

> Never leave, intact, receipts behind--at ATMs,, on counters, at financial institutions, or at gas pumps. Reason for this should be misunderstood only by those with a room temperature I.Q.

> If you don't get a replacement credit card before your present one expires, complain loudly. In fact, it's probably a good idea to complain at least 30 days prior to expiration. Many do not realize it, but the internal policy of the credit card issuers is to send these out well in advance of deadline. Only ignore if you like the whooshing sound of deadlines as they go flying by.

> Same for monthly bills and financial statements. You do not want the computerized footprint of these to loiter in cyberspace too long, easily accessible by con men. Complain. Make sparks, if necessary. Sure, friction can be a drag, but overexposure can cause you a severe case of financial pneumonia.

< Most of all, the first order of business in taking a firm defensive posture is to be quick to retort--when asked for bank, credit card numbers, and all other highly personal information--"Sorry, that's private information." Or, if you prefer being more blunt, "That's none of your business." It all starts here. In card games a good poker player holds them, as they say, close to the vest. In warfare, a good general never telegraphs his punches. Will he use tanks? Will he lunge? Will he out-flank? Will he dig in? Let the other side guess.

> If and when it all falls apart anyway, despite your best preventive efforts, keep a record--names, phone numbers, and complete addresses where available--of all the people with whom you have discussed your case. Also, all supporting documents. Look at it this way: experience is great--it enables you to recognize mistakes when you make them again.

It should go without saying that you should be prepared against the intolerable temptations born of greed which lurk everywhere these days in our civilized jungle. If you were a blimp pilot you'd have a bird's eye view. Failing that, we suppose, the old fashioned way of book-lernin'-style study will have to do. Remember Murphy's Law of Combat: The cavalry doesn't always come to the rescue.

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