Approximately eight months ago I had my purse stolen out of my shopping cart in a department store. I thought my purse was safe, because I had it covered up with my coat. Boy, was I wrong. When I went to check out, I discovered my purse was gone. Of course, all the contents were gone, too. Since then I have learned many things to do in case your wallet, purse, or checkbook is ever stolen. Some of the things on the list were from other persons who had their belongings stolen. I would like to pass on that information to all of you. Please keep this list of THINGS TO DO in a safe place, or somewhere you can readily refer to it.
1. Do not sign the back of your credit cards. Instead put “photo ID required” or CID.
2. When you are writing checks to pay on your credit card accounts, DO NOT put the complete account number on the memo line. The credit card company knows the rest of the number and anyone who might be handling your check as it passes through all the check processing channels won’t have access to it.
3. The next time you order checks, omit your first name and have only your initials and last name put on them. If someone takes your checkbook, they will not know if you sign your checks with just your initials or your first name, but your bank should know how you sign your check.
4. If you must put your phone number on your checks, put your work phone number instead of your home number. If you have a P.O. Box, use that instead of your home address. NEVER have your social security number printed on your checks.
5. If you have your checks stolen, notify your bank. Close your account. Put a stop payment on all of the missing checks. Call TeleCheck at (800) 710-9898 or (800) 927-0188.
6. Place the contents of your wallet on a photocopy machine. Do both sides of each license, credit card, etc. You will know what you had in your wallet and all of the account numbers and phone numbers necessary to cancel. Keep the photocopy in a safe place. I also carry a photocopy of my passport when I travel, either here or abroad.
7. When you go to the grocery store and you place your purse in the top of the cart (where mothers sometimes place their small children), clip your purse with the seat belt provided. This way your purse cannot be easily snatched by a prospective thief. Make sure your purse is closed, though, or they could still steal your wallet.
8. The first thing you should do after your credit card(s) or purse is stolen is file a police report, immediately, in the jurisdiction where your property was stolen. This proves to credit providers that you were diligent and this is the first step towards an investigation, if there ever is one. Make sure you retain a copy of the police report for your records; you will need it for a year or two.
9. This is perhaps the most important thing of all: Call the three national credit card reporting organizations, immediately, to place a fraud alert on your name. Also call the social security fraud line number. I never thought of doing this until I was advised by a bank that called to tell me that an application for credit was made over the Internet in my name. The alert means any company that checks your credit knows your information was stolen and has to contact you by phone to authorize new credit.
10. This is one of the only things that you can do that will stop the thief dead in his tracks: Here are the numbers you need to contact about your stolen wallet, credit cards, purse, etc.:
Equifax: (800) 525-6285
Experian (formerly TRW): (888) 397-3742
Trans Union: (800) 680-7289
Social Security Administration (fraud line): (800) 269-0271
11. The last thing I did was place a security freeze on my credit report, which basically prohibits a credit reporting agency from releasing my credit report information, without my express authorization. You can unfreeze your file at any time, if you follow certain procedures.
12. Lisa Madigan at the Attorney General’s Office has prepared a very succinct way to freeze and unfreeze your credit report. Her Web site is <www.illinoisattorneygeneral.gov>. Click on the green “Identity Theft Hotline” icon on the homepage. You can also obtain more information by calling her Identity Theft Hotline at 1-866-999-5630. I did this and was very happy that I did, even though I did have to unfreeze it for 10 days, when I did a refinance before putting the freeze back on.
At the same time, I froze my husband’s credit file in order to protect my credit. He had some of his identity stolen, even after he had passed away. The Illinois Security Freeze Law is located at 815 ILCS 505/2MM.