Friday, August 05, 2005

Preventing ID Theft using Convenience Checks

Continuing with our theme of specific identity theft
prevention tips, we expose one of the easiest methods
id thieves can use to commit fraud against you.

"Convenience checks" are the checks sent usually from
your credit card company to you via USPS mail. These
"convenience checks" were historically intended to
help consumers pay off an old credit card they're
transferring the balance to a new account.


Thus, the "convenience" is really for the new credit account
company to receive the transferred balances faster
than if you the consumer just paid off the old card
balance owed by writing your own personal bank check.

Identity thieves unfortunately also know how easy it
is to commit id fraud against you using these same
"convenience checks" .

But "how" did the identity thief do this? How
did they get your personal information?

The first step is they steal the "convenience checks"
from your unlocked mail box and even sometimes from
within the post office itself with the aid of an
accomplice.

Convenience checks, in the hands of id thieves, would
be even easier to use than having a credit card
account number. With a convenience check, there would
be no need to make a counterfeit card, change an
address, or even create a new account. The thief could
simply sign your name on the face of the check and
present it to any merchant.

That's because convenience checks:

  • Are shipped via USPS mail without your specific
    request.
  • Are shipped on un-predictable time frames so you can
    not watch for the checks to arrive in your mailbox and
    take action if they do not arrive.
  • Do not require you to call the issuing lender to
    activate them - the id thief can just sign them and
    fill in the requested amount to charge to you.
  • Give you no opportunity in advance to "opt-out" from
    receiving the checks like you can with pre-approved
    credit card offers.
  • Include enough of your personal identifying
    information necessary to not only cash a single check
    but also can be combined with your other information
    publicly available to open up more new accounts in the
    your name.

Furthermore, the id theft exposure problem is
compounded for you because while convenience checks
can only be used once, they often are shipped in
packets containing three or more separate checks.


We know this from personal experience two years ago, when
an identity thief quickly ran up over $800 in
fraudulent charges on our account in less than a week.
In addition, a credit card issuer that offers credit
through convenience checks generally does so from
on an unscheduled cycle, not on a one-time basis with only one
opportunity for the consumer to use only a single
convenience check during the entire life of the
account. So, it's a re-occurring identity theft
exposure problem for you.

Once a fraudulent transaction appears on a credit card
account, you would generally have no easy way to
distinguish when viewing your regular monthly
statement that a theft resulted from unauthorized use
of a convenience check.

Want to know how to protect yourself against
unauthorized use of convenience checks
?

Want to take back control?

The good news, though, is if an identity thief has
stolen your mail for access to new credit cards, bank
and credit card statements, pre-approved credit offers
and tax information or falsified change-of-address
forms, they have committed a serious crime.

Report it to your local postal inspector.

You may contact the United States Postal Inspection Service online.
Also, immediately contact the fraud department of your
credit card and banking institutions if you believe an
identity theft has been committed against you.

So, our tip for today is to contact all of your
credit card providers and request them to eliminate
your account from those who would automatically
receive the unsolicited "convenience checks".

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