Some of your readers don't seem to understand identity theft. It is not someone getting your name and address and using it -- it is someone getting your name, address AND personal information such as Social Security number, account numbers and passwords.
Cutting your name and address off a magazine or catalogue is okay, but no one is looking at old magazines to steal your identity! There's no more information there than in the phone book.
Here are some things your readers SHOULD be doing:
* Shred ALL financial statements with name, address AND account information. Shred the convenience checks your credit-card company keeps sending. Shred old utility bills and canceled checks.
* Do not keep your Social Security card in your wallet -- keep it with your birth certificate, passport, etc., preferably locked in a fireproof box or in a safety-deposit box at the bank.
* Do not respond to e-mails asking you to verify account or personal information. If you receive this kind of e-mail, CALL the business using a phone number you should already have to confirm if it needs this information.
* Keep track of your bills. If you don't receive something, contact the sender to make sure when it was sent, and ask how the sender will help you prevent identity theft if the missing mail was intercepted.
* Review your credit-card statements closely to be sure all the purchases are yours. Contact the bank right away if you see unfamiliar activity. You shouldn't be held liable if you inform your bank quickly.
* If you have lots of credit-card accounts and department-store accounts, consider closing several so there are fewer for you to monitor. You really only need one or two credit cards. Almost all department stores, gas stations and grocery stores take a major credit card. Most will accept debit cards.
* Check your credit reports once a year for any inaccurate information.
I am familiar with this issue because I am a former credit-card-fraud investigator.
Jennifer West, Elkton, Md.
Jennifer, you are right about taking the time and effort to monitor financial information. Many people carry far too many charge cards and are putting themselves at risk. Thank you for this letter.
Whenever I have to create a password for a new computer program or Web site, I am at a loss. I usually end up using part of my name or birth date -- everything people are cautioned against!
Finally, I thought of something that works for me: I use the first letters of the words from a line of my favorite poem, and I have no problem remembering my password now.
Perhaps this will help some of your readers.
Kathleen P., Washington
Great idea! Even the first word or letters in the title of your favorite song could work.
In case my wallet was stolen or lost, I wanted to make sure I remembered what was in it. I laid the contents on the top of my printer and scanned a color copy of the contents on one page. Then I wrote the 800 number under each card so I had the contact numbers, if needed. I taped the page of info to the inside of my kitchen door above the kitchen phone.
Naomi C. Foster, San Diego
I have a tip I hope will help pet owners keep their outdoor pets cool during the summer heat. My mother keeps old, empty, three-liter plastic soda bottles, fills them with water and puts them in the freezer. Once the water is frozen and has become ice, she takes the bottles out and places them in our dogs' houses. The dogs just love to lay right on top of them to keep cool!
After a while, the water will melt, but we just stick it back in the freezer for the next day. For hygienic purposes, we rinse and place the bottles in plastic bags before returning them to the freezer.
Most importantly, please make sure your pet has plenty of cool water to drink throughout the day.
Rosie Mena, via e-mail
Along with cool water, please be sure there is shade for them all day, too.
Send a money- or time-saving hint to Heloise, P.O. Box 795000, San Antonio, Tex. 78279-5000, fax it to 210-HELOISE or e-mail it to Heloise@Heloise.com. Please include your city and state when faxing or using e-mail. I can't answer your letter personally but will use the best hints received in my column.
(c)2005, King Features Syndicate