From the Virginia Society of Certified Public Accountants - Presented by Dean Knepper, CPA, CFP®


(September 24, 2004) — The Federal Trade Commission reports that more than a half million Americans are victims of identity theft each year. Identity theft occurs when someone, without your permission, uses your name, Social Security number, credit card number or other identifying information to commit fraud.

Today, identity theft encompasses a range of crimes — from credit card theft to intricate schemes in which a victim’s personal information is used to set up falsified bank accounts. This fraudulent activity can devastate your credit and require significant time and money to resolve. The Virginia Society of CPAs says that while it’s difficult to prevent identity theft completely, you can minimize your risk by taking the following precautions.

Monitor Credit Cards and Bank Accounts

• Pay attention to your billing cycles. Call your credit card company or bank if your statement is late. A missing statement may mean someone called and changed the billing address to prevent you from detecting fraudulent activity.

• Review your statements carefully to determine whether unauthorized purchases have been made.

• Don’t have blank checks mailed to your home. Ask that they be delivered to your bank and pick them up in person.

• Don’t include extra information, such as your telephone number, driver’s license number or Social Security number on your printed checks.

Safeguard Personal Information

• Don’t carry your Social Security card, and only give out the number when absolutely necessary.

• Never give out personal information of any kind over the telephone or online unless you initiate the contact.

• Watch what you throw away. Buy a shredder and use it to shred credit card receipts, old bank statements, bills, pre-approved credit card offers and other documents showing personal financial information.

Do Away with Pre-Screened Credit Card Offers

• To opt out of receiving pre-screened credit card offers, call (888) 5OPTOUT (888-567-8688). The three major credit bureaus use the same toll-free number to allow consumers to choose not to receive pre-screened credit offers.

Check Your Credit Report Regularly

• Order a credit report at least once a year from each of the three credit bureaus — TransUnion, Experian and Equifax. Look for signs of identity theft, such as an unauthorized change of address or new accounts that you didn’t open. Monitoring your credit report is the most important step you can take to safeguard your identity.

Treat Mail with Care

• When you pay bills, do not leave envelopes containing checks in your home mailbox for the mail carrier to pick up. Drop them off at a post office box.

• Install a locked mailbox at your residence or use a post office box, particularly if mail theft is a problem in your neighborhood.

Be Computer-Safety Savvy

• Delete personal information before disposing of a computer. Use special utilities that overwrite the entire hard drive, making the files unrecoverable. With other methods, deleted files can remain on the computer’s hard drive.

• Shop online at Web sites that use a technology known as SSL or Secure Sockets Layer. This encrypts credit card information sent through cyberspace. You’ll know you’re on a secure site if the Web page begins with “https” instead of the usual “http.”

• Shop only on Web sites that offer a privacy policy so you can determine how your personal information will be handled.

CPAs emphasize that protecting yourself from identity theft is critical to protecting your assets as well as your financial reputation. If you have concerns about responding to requests for personal financial data, contact your CPA.

The Virginia Society of CPAs is the leading professional association dedicated to enhancing the success of all CPAs and their profession by communicating information and vision, promoting professionalism, and advocating members’ interests. Founded in 1909, the Society has nearly 8,000 members who work in public accounting, industry, government and education. This Money Management column and other financial news articles can be found in the Press Room on the VSCPA Web site at

Lifetime Financial Planning, Inc.

Dean Knepper, CPA, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional

2325 Dulles Corner Boulevard, Suite 500, Herndon, Virginia, 20171

208 South King Street, Suite 201, Leesburg, Virginia, 20175

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