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Protecting Against Identity Theft

It’s making headlines again with journalists saying it’s the fastest growing crime in America and anyone with a social security number is vulnerable. So how serious is the identity theft epidemic? So serious former Defense Secretaries, CIA Directors and Counterterrorism Advisors may be recent victims. Science Applications International Corp., a company known for hiring Washington’s most powerful intelligence and military officials, had their database broken into, an information surprise attack, leaving thousands of employees, many with security clearances wide open to being stripped of their most valuable information.

Stolen identity not only affects Washington’s most elite security advisors but the average citizen who has no idea they are being robbed. Tens of thousands of people from all walks of life are currently facing this harsh reality after a ring of identity thieves gained access to ChoicePoint, one of the most frequently used companies to gain personal information. ChoicePoint holds the keys to personal profiles of nearly every consumer; selling their information to employers, landlords and government agencies. Shocked by the breach, attorneys and investigators are scrutinizing ChoicePoint executives for withholding news of the breach to those affected for several months. Companies like ChoicePoint, who retain personal information about individuals in electronic format, are now required to report any and all breaches to individuals who live in states that have enacted legislation such as California’s SB 1386.

As the epidemic escalates, many are left feeling helpless to respond to its devastating impact. Understanding the strategies used by these sneaky suspects can prohibit you from becoming a target. Identity thieves who broke into ChoicePoint’s database set-up over 50 fraudulent business accounts to gain access to consumer data. Combating these silent thieves requires pro-active measures, investigating what others know about you and being vigilant about any sign of fraudulent activity. Simple steps such as shredding all important documents, never disclosing information to unknown callers and only shopping on web sites where the credit card account is encrypted are critical to halting this criminal activity before it becomes a crisis.

Once a person has fallen prey to having their personal information stolen, it is critical to take the urgent steps needed such as filing a police report, notifying one of the 3 major credit bureaus and most importantly, issuing a fraud alert requiring brokers, credit card companies and other lenders to scrutinize anyone who opens any account in your name. Californians can also order a “credit freeze” requiring lenders, retailers and other businesses to get special access to your credit report through a pin based system, preventing anyone from getting new loans and credit in your name.

Dennis Frankeberger is a partner with Frankeberger Vausher + Company, CPAs which is located in Chino Hills. He can be reached at 909-597-1100 or at dennisf@fvcpas.com