Old Wives' Tales
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Claim: E-mail from lawyer gives good advice about preventive steps to protect against credit card theft.
Example: [Collected via e-mail, 2002]
Origins: With the amount of junk circulating on the Internet, a healthy dose of skepticism about anonymous advice offered through
Keeping a list of one's credit card account numbers and the phone numbers to call to report lost or stolen cards is rather obvious advice no one should need to be told, but even those who have never gotten around to compiling such a list should be able to retrieve the information from any previous credit card statement.
Reporting stolen cards as soon as possible limits the cardholder's losses and prevents further purchases, but information gleaned from those cards (and other items commonly found in wallets and purses) can still be used to perpetrate identity theft scams such as obtaining additional credit cards, cell phone service, bank accounts, or lines of credit the victim is unaware of. For this reason, it's a good idea for the holder of lost or stolen credit cards to call all the major credit bureaus and ask them to attach fraud alerts to the cardholder's name and Social Security account number so that any such activity will be flagged.
The phone numbers given in the message above for the top three credit bureaus are correct. However, the number given as the Social Security Administration's fraud line is incorrect
Our advice: Take some good advice.
In September 2002 versions of the e-mail quoted above began appearing with the following
[Collected via e-mail, 2002]Some of the advice in this added-on preface is worth heeding — leave your Social Security number off your checks and list your PO box address rather than your home address.
A corporate attorney sent the following out to the employees in his company:
The next time you order checks have only your initials (instead of first name) and last name put on them. If someone takes your check book they will not know if you sign your checks with just your initials or your first name but your bank will know how you sign your checks.
When you are writing checks to pay on your credit card accounts, DO NOT put the complete account number on the "For" line. Instead, just put the last four numbers. 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. Put your work
Never have your SS# printed on your checks (DUH!). You can add it if it is necessary, but if you have it printed, anyone can get it.
But some of the advice is only half right — rather than providing a work number in place of a home telephone number, we have to ask why either needs to be included. If a merchant requires a phone number, the information can always written on the face of the check at the time of the transaction. Likewise, rather than including only the last four digits of a credit card number in the memo field of the check, a better course of action is to leave that line blank. The preprinted slip the credit card holder returns along with his payment is all the credit card issuer needs to ensure payment is allocated against the correct account.
And one bit of the proffered advice is just plain wrong — listing initials in place of the account holder's first name in the vague hope the issuing bank will spot an improperly signed check is right up there with wishing bread was 39¢ a loaf. We've seen checks we'd forgotten to sign go through our accounts. If a bank fails to question blank signature lines, it's not up to the task of scrutinizing each signature to see if it matches what it remembers of how that account holder signs his name.
Last updated: 6 January 2008
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