Friday, May 15, 2009

Get Yourself A Fraud Alert

Several months ago, a very rude person called our house and spoke with my wife. He represented a collection agency, looking for Brian Smith. Knowing that we have no debt, my wife told him that I was not the particular Brian Smith he was looking for. He demanded that my wife tell him my social security number, and when she refused, he threatened to "turn it over to the attorney." My wife, upset about all this, calls me at the office, and I told her I'd call the moron and fix it. So I called the guy, who was as rude to me as he was to her, demanding my social, etc. I told him I'm not going to give that to him, I'm not the Brian he's looking for, etc., and he accuses me of "wanting to play games." So I ask him to whom should I send the cease and desist letter, and proceed to do that.

(After reading up on the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, my opinion is that he committed at least two violations: his phrases "relaying it to the attorney," and "wanting to play games" can both be interpreted as threats. Incidentally, the FDCPA makes for some interesting reading, and it's good to know what collectors are allowed and not allowed to do.)

We pulled a credit report on ourselves, and nothing untoward showed on them. Knowing that "Brian Smith" is a pretty regular name, we decide to place a Fraud Alert on our reports. It is fall-off-the-log easy:
  1. Call a toll-free number of one of the credit reporting agencies (Transunion, Experian, or Equifax).
  2. Using your touch-tone phone, follow the prompts which will ask you your SSN, house number, and a few other things.
  3. If you're married, call them again, and put an alert on your spouse's report as well.
  4. For continuing protection, set your favorite reminding mechanism to prompt you to renew the alerts in three months.

This takes less than five minutes.

You only have to call one of the credit reporting agencies; they will notify the other two, and you will receive in the mail an acknowledgement that you have a fraud alert placed on yourself. A fraud alert does not prevent you from continuing to use open credit accounts. A fraud alert does not prevent you from opening new credit accounts. What it will do, if you are going to open a new account, is force the creditor to take several extra steps to verify that it really is you who is trying to open the account. (We got to see this in action, and it was very cool; perhaps I'll describe that in a future post.) A fraud alert lasts for 90 days, after which you're free to place the alert again.

The FTC estimates that 9 million people have their identities stolen each year. It's a huge pain for victims, who spend tremendous effort to clean up the mess the criminals cause. So get yourself a fraud alert. It's quick, easy, and free.

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