Prevent identity theft

To minimize identity theft problems, check your credit report frequently. Now that free reports are easily accessible from the three major agencies once a year, you can order one every four months and make sure no hanky-panky is going on in your name. Call (877) 322-8228, or visit this site.

BE WARNED: The Federal Trade Commission says no other website is authorized to fill orders for the free annual report. Some business websites, offering free reports or free credit scores, often have strings attached to lure you into a paid service.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: When you review your credit report, check for inquiries from companies you haven’t contacted, accounts you didn’t open and debts you can’t explain. Verify that all personal information is correct.

You probably haven’t heard about the crook who set up an eBay account under an owner-operator’s name. “The individual was selling some items, but the buyer did not receive the goods,” recalls consultant Ray Robinson of American Truck Business Services. “The buyer and eBay came after my client for fraud.” It cost the owner-operator many hours of downtime and thousands of dollars in legal costs to clear his name, and the phony seller was never caught, Robinson says.

While that could happen to anyone, truckers – especially over-the-road – are more vulnerable than others to certain types of identity theft. Here’s why:

YOUR MAILBOX. If you run overnight and let mail pile up, you’re leaving a well-stocked pond for identity thieves to fish in. Bank statements and other documents with confidential data are ripe for abuse. The obvious solution is to make alternate arrangements for mail delivery, such as a post office box.

Perhaps the most easily hijacked mailing is a notice that you’re approved for a credit card. To stop this junk mail species, call (888) 567-8688 or visit this site, operated by the consumer reporting companies.

YOUR CDL. In Washington, D.C., according to a 2003 news report, a DMV employee used a turned-in license to write $2,000 in bad checks. This could happen to anyone, though truckers have to show their license more often than four-wheelers.

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Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association members have complained about gate or dock personnel requiring that a CDL be shown, says Todd Spencer, OOIDA executive vice president.

“In many instances that information isn’t just looked at or verified, they make copies of it,” he says. “If somebody’s going to insist, you basically don’t have any bargaining leverage.”

YOUR TRUCK STOP VISITS. One in eight identity theft victims say their information was stolen from a transaction. If you whip out the plastic a lot, watch who gets access to your card, says Jackie Dizdul, spokeswoman for the Federal Trade Commission. “Be aware all the time at truck stops, with a lot of people coming and going,” she says.

Since the chance of a wallet’s theft is higher in such an environment, don’t carry any personal data you don’t have to, such as a Social Security card or PIN codes.

Don’t make it easy for the bad guys. Use common sense and take the extra steps to keep your personal data strictly personal.

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