Staying ahead of ID thieves

Dick Bennett, who retired to the Olympic Peninsula a few years back, has always been a good source of information.

That’s no surprise, since he was a career information officer in the U.S. Navy.

The bottom line is that when Bennett sends me an e-mail under the heading “useful information,” I pay attention. And he didn’t fail me last week with a note about protecting yourself from identity theft.

“A great deal of this information is common sense and has been around, but there are a few new twists to consider,” he wrote.

The e-mail he forwarded has been making the rounds on the Internet. I normally dump such e-mails because if you don’t know the source, it’s hard to gauge their accuracy. But these ideas speak for themselves, so let me share some of those twists with you:

* The next time you order checks, have only your initials and last name put on them. Thieves won’t know how you sign your checks, but your bank does.

* Do not sign the back of your credit cards. Instead, write photo ID required.

* Don’t write your complete credit card number on the checks used to pay credit card bills. Just note the last four digits so processors of your check don’t get the whole number.

* Photocopy both sides of the contents of your wallet so you know what to cancel and have the appropriate numbers in the event of theft.

* Destroy the plastic card keys used to unlock your hotel or motel room. They have all the information you gave the hotel, including your address, your credit card number and expiration date.

* Keep the toll-free numbers of your credit card companies handy so you know which numbers to call in the event of a theft.

* File a police report about the theft.

* Call the three national credit reporting organizations to put a fraud alert on your name and Social Security number. That will warn credit suppliers that your information was stolen and that they must contact you by phone to confirm to authorize new credit. The numbers are: Equifax, 800-525-6285; Experian, 888-397-3742; and Trans Union, 800-680-7289.

In a related announcement, officials at the Social Security Administration warned people about a new e-mail scam making the rounds.

The message claims that someone is using their Social Security number and “assuming your identity.”

It sends the recipient to a fake Web site designed to look like one for Social Security. Then it asks for you to give your Social Security number and bank information to confirm your identity.

Don’t do it.

No government agency or bank is going to ask you for information in this way. The Web site operators are hoping you’ll give them what they need to drain your bank accounts or to apply for credit in your name.

Remember the rule: Do not provide personal or financial information over the phone or the Internet to anyone unless you initiated the deal.

Mike Benbow: 425-339-3459;

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