Mary Jo Werner

Mary Jo Werner

Terrorists need money to be successful.

They need money to buy their bombs, weapons and transportation. Without money, they cannot carry out their mission.

How can we fight back? Many terrorists are professional identity thieves. Billions of dollars are obtained illegally by terrorists through the use of identity theft. Here are some ideas to reduce their impact:

Review your credit report at least quarterly: Three credit reporting bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) allow you to review your credit history to determine whether accounts or loans have been opened in your name. Identity thieves will use stolen personal information to open credit cards and bank accounts and obtain loans. A credit report will show you what debts you owe as well as what accounts are in your name. To view your credit report, you can visit www.equifax.com, www.experian.com, or www.transunion.com.

Buy a whistle: Many identity thieves call their victims claiming to be an authority figure and request personal information from them. Individuals will inadvertently answer questions on the phone without verifying who they are speaking with. If a person calls and threatens you with immediate arrest or IRS seizures and levies, blow your whistle into the receiver and hang up the phone. The person making these threatening calls is an identity thief. By blowing the whistle, you halt any opportunity for them to obtain personal information from you. If a person calls and asks you a question such as, “Are you John Smith?” do not answer “Yes.” Identity thieves will try to obtain verbal answers from you to record your voice and use it to take out loans or open credit accounts in your name. It is best to hang up or blow your whistle if you do not know the person on the other end of the phone.

Do not carry credit cards in plain view. Often, consumers will carry their credit cards in their back pocket or loosely in their purse. This is an opportunity for an identity thief to obtain that credit card information and use it illegally. It is best to keep your cards secure in a credit card holder or wallet to provide protection from identity thieves.

When making a purchase with your credit or debit card, make sure it is always in your view. Many consumers have been duped by waiters, waitresses or cashiers who have taken the credit card into the “back room” in order to copy the information and use it fraudulently. By keeping your credit or debit card in view, you can watch what the clerk is doing, and the clerk is less likely to use your card for illegal purposes.

Ask for a receipt when making purchases via debit or credit card. By keeping track of your receipts, you can manage your purchases and how much you spent on each purchase. Many identity thieves will watch to see whether a customer requests a receipt. Customers who are not asking for receipts are more likely to have their identity stolen. Those who don’t ask for receipts are deemed “careless” and less likely to keep track of their purchases. Identity thieves like to take advantage of easy victims.

Review the bills that are sent to your home. Identity thieves will sometimes change the spelling of your first or last name. That allows them to set up a new account and obtain money using this altered name.

Notify the Internal Revenue Service. If you suspect that you have been a victim of identity theft, file a Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit, with the Internal Revenue Service. This form will notify the IRS to reflect your account as being a potential victim of identity theft. The Internal Revenue Service is working with other federal, state and local agencies to help thwart identity theft. By filing a Form 14039, you put the federal government on alert that other potential identity theft is occurring with your personal information. If you receive an email from someone claiming they are from the Internal Revenue Service, do not respond — delete the email. The Internal Revenue Service will not email taxpayers.

Notify your state agencies. The Wisconsin Department of Revenue is also invested in reducing terrorism. Contact them at 608-266-2772 or email DORIDTheft@wisconsin.gov.

Contact your local police department. Your local police department needs to be informed of illegal actions taken against you.

Be vigilant. Lock your doors at home and use a deadbolt. Lock your cars, and when re-entering, check the back seat to ensure no intruders are in your vehicle. Identity thieves often will take more drastic measures and physically assault their victims.

And last but not least, if you see something, say something. During these uncertain times, it is important for us to take care of ourselves and each other. Preventing terrorism begins at home.

Mary Jo Werner is an attorney, CPA and a partner with Wipfli LLP, La Crosse. She is a community member of the La Crosse Tribune editorial board.

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