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Security

IDENTITY THEFT: HANDLING CREDIT MATTERS

Know your payment rights. Under federal law, you are not responsible for more than $50 if someone uses your credit card without authorization, and most issuers will remove the charges completely if you report the problem as soon as you discover it. While your losses could be greater if someone uses your debit card, the card issuer may have a policy that offers you more protection than federal law provides. You can contest checks that have been used with your forged signature or unauthorized withdrawals from your bank account.

Respond quickly to debt collectors. If debt collectors contact you about accounts opened in your name or unauthorized charges made to your existing accounts, respond immediately in writing, keeping a copy of your letter. Explain why you don't owe the money and enclose copies of any supporting documents, such as an official identity theft report. You have the right to ask the debt collector for the name of the business that is owed the debt and the amount owed. And you have the right to ask that business for copies of the credit applications or other documents relating to any transactions that you believe were made by the ID thief.

Be cautious about offers for credit monitoring services. Why pay extra for them when you can get your credit reports for free or very cheap? Read the description of the services carefully. Unless you're a victim of serious and ongoing identity theft, buying a service that alerts you to certain activities in your credit files probably isn't worthwhile, especially if it costs hundreds of dollars a year. You can purchase copies of your credit reports anytime for about $9 through the bureaus' Web sites or by phone: Equifax, 1-800-685-111; Experian, 1-888-397-3742; TransUnion, 1-800-916-8800.

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