"By necessity, I became an expert on identity theft," says Merritt, CEO of
Merritt & Associates and author of "Identity Theft Do's and
Don'ts." "My information was stolen in 2006, and in repairing the damage, I
learned some not-so-obvious ways we can all protect against identity theft in
the first place."
Merritt's problems began quickly. While disputing financial charges and
dealing with resulting business problems, in 2007 he was stopped for a traffic
violation and arrested on a false outstanding felony warrant. He immediately
"I had to enlist my U.S. congressman and convince the state police, NCIC, FBI
and Secret Service that I didn't commit the felonies. For a few years, I had to
prove that the prints did not match the false record in question. After legal
action, however, I was able to have this corrected."
Unfortunately, the millions affected by the recent hacks may be dealing with
similar repercussions in the years ahead, he says.
Before you become a victim of identity theft, Merritt offers seven ways to
guard against it.
Identity theft is like being robbed when you are away from
home; most thefts occur in places where you do business every day. Either a
place of business is robbed, a bad employee acts improperly or a hacker
breaches the office through the computer.
Secure your wallet's
information. Photocopy everything in your wallet: photos, credit cards
(front and back), membership cards —
everything. Put the copies in the order the cards are arranged in your
wallet, staple the pictures and place them in a strongbox or safe.
Make sure your information is
consistent. For all of your identity and financial documents, make
absolutely sure, to the smallest detail, that all of your personal
information is accurate and consistent. Discrepancies such as using your
middle initial on some documents and not others, or having different
addresses, can wreck havoc in proving your identity and can compromise your
Secure your digital habits and
data. Change your passwords at least twice a year on a nonscheduled
don't be predictable. Have a strong firewall if you shop online, and
only access sites that are protected by a strong firewall and high industry
standards. Access accounts of a financial nature only from your personal
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While in the bank, keep account numbers
and other data out of sight, and avoid stating account numbers,
Social Security numbers and similar information out loud. When
planning a bank visit, have items such as deposits and
withdrawal slips prepared in advance.
Account for your
interactions with vendors. Every time you speak to someone
with whom you do business, write down the time, date, name, and
the purpose or outcome of the call. If an identity theft occurs
on the vendor's end, you will be able to reference these prior
conversations effectively. Be sure to note any animosity or
reluctance from the vendor.
Don't carry around your birth
certificate or Social Security card. Unless it's necessary,
keep those vital items in a safe, or at least a firebox. If you
know someone is going to need a copy of your tax returns or your
driver's license, for example, make the copies ahead of time.
This avoids the need for a firm's employee to leave the room
with such information.
"Of course, you can greatly reduce being a victim of such recent
hacks that occurred at the major retailers by using cash more
often," he says. "But if you're going to use credit, use a card from
a national bank or a national credit union and never a debit card,
Scott A. Merritt is the CEO and sole stockholder of Merritt
Ventures Inc., doing business as Merritt & Associates, and author of
"Identity Theft Do's and Don'ts." He has more than a decade of
experience in the real estate industry, financial planning,
insurance, investment services and mortgage services, all under the
umbrella of Merritt Ventures. Merritt holds a life, accident and
health insurance license and a principal associate real estate
broker's license. He has an associate degree in pre-law, a
bachelor's degree in business administration and a certificate in
computer information systems. He has personally represented himself
and won in court hundreds of times to, in part, clear his record
from the ravages of identity theft.
[Text from file received from
News and Experts]