About a year ago, a seventy six year old woman was admitted to a convalescent facility for a few weeks to receive physical therapy after a fall. She was there one week when she noticed her credit cards were not in her purse. Her daughter immediately contacted the credit card company.

The card had been stolen for two days. In that time the thief charged approximately $3000 of food, merchandise and services. The thief also applied for another credit card in her name. What is scarey is that the credit card had the woman’s picture on it. So, clearly no one took the time to even look at the card.

We live in a time when identity fraud is ramped. Within hours of your identity being stolen, the offender can charge thousands of dollars in merchandise, apply for credit, and even change pin numbers on your bank and other accounts. The damage can be devastating.

Following these simple steps can help avoid identity theft:

1. The next time you order checks, have only your initials (instead of you first name) and last name put on them. If someone takes your check book, they will not know if you sign your name with initials or your whole name, but the bank will know how you sign your checks.

2. Do not sign the back of your credit cards. Instead put “PHOTO ID REQUIRED.”

3. When writing checks to pay on your credit card accounts, DO NOT put the complete account number on your check. Just put the last four digits. The credit card company knows the rest of the number and anyone who might be handling your check as it passes through the check processing channels won’t have access to it.

4. Put your work phone number on your checks instead of your home phone. If you have a PO Box, use that instead of your home address. If you don’t have a PO Box, use your work address.

5. Never have your Social Security number or drivers license number printed on your checks.

6. Copy the front and back of everything in your wallet, license, credit cards, etc. If your wallet is stolen, you will know what you had in it as well as the phone numbers to call and cancel. Keep the photocopy in a safe place.

7. Be very careful when opening emails. If you do not know who the email is from, don’t open it. If you open it be cautious about clicking on links and definitely do not enter in any personal information such as social security number, or bank account numbers.

8. The IRS has warned that there are fraudulent emails that appear to come from the IRS that suggest that there is a tax problem. They have you click on a link for more information and in that simple click, they obtain access to your computer.

The IRS does not send unsolicited email. If they want to contact you, they will do it through the US Postal service by way of a letter. So, if you get an e-mail from the IRS report it immediately to the IRS or the local authorities.

Even taking precautions, it is possible to be a victim of identity theft. If your identity is stolen here is some critical information to help minimize the damage.

1. Cancel your credit cards immediately. This is where having copies of them will really help.

2. File a police report immediately in the jurisdiction where your credit cards, etc were stolen. This proves to credit providers you were diligent, and this is the first step toward an investigation if there ever is one.

3. Call the three national credit reporting organizations immediately to place a fraud alert on your name and Social Security number. If credit is applied for they have to contact you by phone to authorize new credit. Here are the fraud alert numbers to call:

Experian 1-888-397-3742

Transunion 1-200-680-7289

Equifax 1-888-766-0008

The fast pace of our lives, has created new problems that our parents and grandparents never imagined. The internet has given us ways to save time and money. We rarely use real money – instead we use checks and credit and debit cards.

It all makes for a new kind of problem. This doesn’t mean we should live in fear. We should simply be aware of the potential problem, and be prepared by following simple safety precautions. Knowledge gives us the power to stay in our fast paced world safely.