for release Friday August 5, 2005
by Melodie Davis
Is Your Paper (Or Electronic) Trail in Order?
Two recent experiences in our extended clan have caused my husband and me to take a closer look at how well we’ve covered our tails on where important papers are, what they cover, having the right papers, and protecting our names, numbers and passwords from identity thieves. No one can be fully protected, and nothing—short of going underground and not coming out for the next 50 years—can guarantee that nothing will go wrong.
A relative lost his billfold, in a public parking lot at night and he didn’t realize it. You can guess the rest of the story. Someone found the wallet, extracted the cash and the credit cards, and then trashed the wallet on a state highway in a rainstorm. Another dear soul found the discarded wallet, and using this man’s fishing license for reference, called the family and reunited the man and his wallet.
This man was happy to have one piece of the puzzle solved, and assumed the driver’s license was gone as well. A stolen driver’s license is a worthwhile commodity these days, and he was bemoaning all the red tape it would put him through.
As he and his wife dug out the rest of the papers in the wallet to dry them, they found the license stuck between old receipts. In all, they came out pretty lucky: about $25 in cash stolen, and two credit cards which they promptly cancelled (before anyone used them).
The wife, in this case, realized that she carried many more department store cards than her husband. She would have had a lot more cards to research and cancel (and maybe even forget one).While usually you aren’t liable for more than $50 on any one card if you report it stolen in a set amount of time, if you are carrying six to eight cards that quickly adds up to a painful amount.
One ad reminds consumers that protecting one’s identity is not just a matter of taking precautions about recording numbers and being vigilant on the Internet: more stolen numbers are obtained by crooks going through mail or garbage than off the Internet!
Second, do you know where all your important papers are, and do your family members? An elderly relative was trying to sell a piece of vacation property recently. A buyer was lined up, and they put money down and signed the customary contract stipulating that the property would need to go through a title search before the deal would be completed.
A title search is just routine, right? Never turns up anything unusual. Wrong. In this case, a lien on the property was found, saying they had never finished paying it off. The couple was sure they had finished paying it off, but couldn’t produce any written evidence that they had. They didn’t realize they didn’t have a title for this property in their bank lock box. Oops. Long story short, the situation is currently being battled out by lawyers. What a mess.
This situation prompted me to visit our lock box to make sure all our vehicle deeds and property titles were there, and to make a list of the lock box’s contents and place it in a file cabinet at home for the kids (or whoever) might have to look for such a thing.
Other tips for protecting your identity and improving your paper trail are:
Protect a debit card like cash: if stolen, losses come from your own bank account, not the credit card company.
Get a credit report occasionally to check on your credit history (you might discover unused accounts that are still open) and it will reveal whether someone has stolen an item out of your mailbox or trash and used your name and information to set up bogus accounts.
Don’t carry unneeded credit cards, your social security card or birth certificate in your purse or wallet.
Always take your ATM, credit card, and other receipts with you; file in case there is a question on bills, or destroy.
Cancel unused credit card accounts: they just invite trouble and can actually lower your credit rating.
Never give out your social security number to any person or company unless you know them or have initiated the contact yourself.
Consider changing the number on your driver’s license to a true I.D. number rather than your vital social security number.
(Adapted from Susan Okula, “Protect Yourself from Identity Theft” from MSN “Money” website, http://moneycentral.msn.com/articles/banking/credit/1342.asp ).
“Ultimately,” Okula concludes, “you cannot prevent identity theft from happening, but you can reduce the odds.”
We all have better ways to use our money and stress out our days than chasing down/completing red tape to restore our identities and our carefully earned business history.
Any stories you’d like to share? Write to me at: Another Way, Box 22, Harrisonburg Va., 22802, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org (Please include your paper's name in your response.)
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.
NOTES TO EDITORS: text = 831 words; end material = 105 words
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