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'Call Christina' team fact checks consumer protection advice

Consumer protection attorney Daniel Tam clarifies what consumers need to know

PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. – When a Local 10 News viewer spotted a letter containing consumer protection tips on social media he brought it to the "Call Christina" team for a fact check.

Local 10 News enlisted the advice of consumer protection attorney Daniel Tam of Tam Law Group.

"That letter was clearly written before the dot-com boom and doesn't take into account the speed of information in the digital age," Tam said. "You are just as likely to get your identity stolen from someone sitting in front of a computer in Russia or China as you are here in the U.S. Think about the ways we have our personal information stolen without losing our wallets -- data breaches, skimmers, hospital admission forms, license applications. Medical facilities are a hotbed. Two of Miami-Dade's largest employers, Baptist Health and the University of Miami, were targets of data breaches in recent years."

Tam breaks down each bullet point raised in the letter:

1.) Do not sign the back of your credit cards. Instead, put Photo ID required:

"This one is an urban myth. Even before the dot com boom, you rarely were asked for ID. Technically, the credit cad agreement requires you to sign the card before using it. Today, most retailers have a terminal right in front of the customer to swipe, so the cashier never even handles the card."

2.) 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.

"It's also OK not to put any numbers on the check, because the account number is already in the tear off portion of your bill. Really, it's safer to pay online, so anyone handling your check doesn't have your checking account number.

3.) Put your work phone number on your checks instead of your home phone.

"Either address is OK, and never put your social security or phone number on the check."

4.) Place the contents of your wallet on photocopy machine.

"This is fine, but it's best just to write down what's in your wallet and the relevant numbers."

5.) Have toll free numbers and your cards handy so you known whom to call if you need to cancel your credit cards.

"This should be number 1. To report a stolen card, you can either call or go online. Either works. Even the smartphone apps let you do this, so memorizing the phone numbers is no longer that important."

6.) File a police report immediately in the jurisdiction where your credit cards, etc. were stolen.

"This should be number 3. You need to fill out a police report, but you also need to fill out what is called an identity theft affidavit, and send both to the credit bureaus. The FTC provides one on their website (for items that would appear on your credit report). The IRS also provides one for those who are victims of tax return fraud."

7.) Call the three national credit reporting organizations immediately to place a fraud alert on your name and also call the Social Security fraud line number.

"This should be number 2. You can call to request either a fraud alert or a credit freeze. I don't think credit freezes were available at the time this letter was written, which is why there's no mention of it. Fraud alerts placed on your credit require credit grantors to go through some extra steps to verify the identity of the person in front of them who is applying for credit. Credit freezes actually place a hold on your file so that every credit application should automatically be rejected until the freeze is lifted by you. I always recommend that our men and women in the military choose one of these options before going on active duty."

Tam also recommends getting a copy of your credit report every six months to keep an eye on what's going on.

"At the end of the day, we only have a small amount of control over whether our data gets stolen," Tam said. "What's important is minimizing the effects after it has occurred."

Follow Christina Vazquez on Twitter @CallChristinaTV

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