Protect Against ID Theft

How the pros set up their computer passwords

Editor’s note: Lois Cahall splits her time between New York (where she writes about money for sites like LearnVest) and London (where she’s had UK’s best-selling fiction ebook). She’s also been a guest host on ABC and Good Morning America. asked for her opinion on how to prevent identity theft…

Just last year, this was such a hot topic that Hollywood found it an amusing premise for the film Identity Thief. They cast Melissa McCarthy as a thief who assumes Jason Bateman’s identity, who has a blast living it up with Bateman’s charge cards. Of course, in the movie version, the two end up best of friends. In the real life version, you’d most likely be sobbing and your life would be ruined.

The biggest culprit is the web. Everything you do is being watched. I’m a best-selling author and journalist who often has to search for something only to find I’m later bombarded with ads for “Save Wildlife” because I was researching chimpanzees for a recent article.

Here’s what I do…

Weird passwords

With a good password identity theft is harder. We all know to no longer use our birthdays, Social Security numbers and our pets’ names. So come up with a favorite sentence that has some relevance to your life. If you’re a mom, how many nights have you said to your kids “Did you brush your teeth?”

Take the first letter off of every word and you get Dybyt? Now add in a number or a symbol and voila, a weird password. For instance: DybytAB57? — A for Amber, B for Bennett, plus Amber and Bennett’s ages….5 and 7. You could change that every year on their birthday, so it becomes DybytAB68?

But don’t use the same password for everything. Mix them up. And never put a password in an email. Finally, be sure your anti-virus software is up to date.

With a good password identity theft is more rare, but we can make you more secure.

If it happens anyway

If you do get victimized, here are three act-immediately tips to minimize your losses:

  1. File a police report first thing. Clearly document everything you’re aware of: bank account numbers, credit cards, etc. Before leaving the police station, get copies. You’ll need these to clean up the mess with bankers, creditors, and insurance companies.
  2. Contact creditors. You’ll be connected to their fraud departments to get started. When your new accounts are set up, choose all new passwords.
  3. Call one of the major credit bureaus. That’s Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Place a “fraud alert” on your profile, which means you must be contacted by any charge company before yet another account can be opened in your name. The Federal Trade Commission says, “Ask one of the three credit reporting companies to put a fraud alert on your credit report. They must tell the other two companies.”
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