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USA Federal offers ID theft protection steps

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USA Federal Credit Union today issued an eight-point guide to its members and the general public to protect their financial privacy in the wake of the theft of a personal information database of 26 million U.S. veterans.

"Members may call worried about what they can do to protect their financial privacy," said Mary Cunningham, CEO of USA Federal. "USA Federal has over 60,000 members, many of whom are active or retired military. We want to let them know immediately how to protect themselves. The time to act is before a breach of your privacy happens. That is why we are issuing the Eight-Point Guide to Privacy Protection for all our members and the public."

The guide highlights important steps to take such as:

* How to check your credit report for fraudulent activity

* How to install passwords on utility bills and other records

* Where to file reports if you are the victim of identity theft

* Tips on how to avoid being tricked into revealing personal information

Kym Vermilyea, Supervisor of USA Federal's Fraud/Loss Prevention Unit, commented, "Identity theft is a growing problem and anyone can fall prey at any time. When personal information like a Social Security number, date of birth or a mother's maiden name is stolen, crooks attempt to open loans or credit card accounts in your name." She added, "Often victims don't even realize they've been targeted until charges pile up and their credit score is negatively impacted."

Protecting against identity theft: An eight-point guide

To protect against identity theft, you should be proactive. This means taking simple but effective steps to prevent easy access to your records. This will stop most thefts from happening in the first place.

If, however, you suspect something has already happened, check these steps to stop the theft in the early stages -- or to prevent any further losses if it is already too late.

1. To check for inappropriate activity, order a copy of your credit report. An amendment to the Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act requires each of the major nationwide consumer reporting companies to provide you with a free copy of your credit reports once every 12 months, at your request. Do not contact the three nationwide consumer reporting companies individually. To order your free annual report from one or all of the national consumer reporting companies, go to www.annualcreditreport.com, call toll-free (877) 322-8228 or complete the Annual Credit Report Request Form and mail it to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. You can print this form from ftc.gov/credit. Click on the "For Consumers" tab and look for "Credit Reports" in the "Categories" section. A downloadable PDF of the form will be listed under "Want a Free Annual Report?"

2. TODAY, place passwords on your credit card, saving institution, utility (water and electricity), Internet (ISP) and phone accounts. For your password, avoid using easily available information such as your mother's maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your Social Security number, your phone number or consecutive numbers. When opening new accounts, many applications ask for your mother's maiden name. Substitute a password instead.

3. Do not give out personal information on the phone, through the mail, or on the Internet unless you've initiated the contact or are sure you know who contacted you. Identity thieves are clever. They pose as financial institution representatives, Internet service providers (ISPs) and even government agencies to trick people into revealing personal information. Do not provide your Social Security number, mother's maiden name, account numbers or other identifying information unless you are certain to whom you are talking. Always confirm that you are dealing with a legitimate organization. Call customer service using the number listed on your account statement or in the telephone book. Double-check an organization's Web site by searching for it (via a search engine such as Google) rather than cutting and pasting an address they provided. You will find many companies post scam and fraud alerts.

4. Deposit your outgoing mail in post office collection boxes or at your local post office, rather than in an unsecured mailbox. Promptly remove mail from your mailbox. If you're planning to be away from home and can't pick up your mail, call the U.S. Postal Service at (800) 275-8777 to request a vacation hold. The postal service will hold your mail at your local post office until you can pick it up or are home to receive it.

5. If you believe you are already an identity theft victim, call the Equifax, Experian and Trans Union credit bureaus, and ask for a "fraud alert" to be put on your file. If you ask, only the last four digits of your Social Security number will appear on your credit reports. Ask them to include messages on your credit report indicating that no new credit should be granted without your personal approval.

Credit Bureau Fraud Departments

Equifax: (800) 525-6285, www.equifax.com

Experian: (888) 397-3742, www.experian.com

Trans Union: (800) 680-7289, www.transunion.com

6. If you believe you are already an identity theft victim, contact the security departments of the appropriate creditors or financial institutions for all accounts that have been fraudulently accessed or opened. Close these accounts, and, if you wish, open new ones to replace them. Choose a non-obvious password, and ask that it be required for any and all future changes to the account.

7. If you believe you are already an identity theft victim, file a police report either locally or where the identity theft took place. You may need proof of the crime when dealing with creditors, so get a copy of the report or the report number.

8. If you believe you are already an identity theft victim, you can call for information to the Federal Hotline, 1-800-FED-INFO. In addition, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) collects information on identity theft. They can be helpful in solving the crime and they can provide additional advice. Call them at 1-877-ID-THEFT (1-877-438-4338) or visit http://www.consumer.gov/idtheft/

About USA Federal

Visit us at www.usafedcu.org or call (800) 220-1USA (1872)

or (858) 831-8100 for more information.

With more than 61,000 members and $699.4 million in assets, USA Federal Credit Union (headquartered in San Diego) operates 20 branches, including locations in San Diego, Murrieta, Temecula, Las Vegas, Japan and Korea. Members of this nonprofit financial cooperative include the military, civilians and select employee groups. Founded in 1953 at the Naval Training Center in San Diego, USA Federal offers a full range of financial services, including business services and consumer savings, checking, mortgage and home equity loans, auto loans, debit and credit cards, share term certificates, IRAs and a 24-hour phone center. Online services include eStatements, Online Banking and Bill Pay with Money HQ and online loan applications and approval. Additional services include the BALANCE financial fitness program, and investment and retirement planning offered by MEMBERS Financial Services. This credit union is federally insured by the National Credit Union Administration.

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