An attorney’s advice on preventing credit card fraud has been circulating over the internet in one form or another since at least 2002, but is it accurate? Most of it is, but in the text below I’ve placed some corrections and clarifications in brackets. Share this with your students in personal finance class. 😉

Read the following and make a copy for your files in case you need to refer to it someday. Maybe we should all heed this advice!

A corporate attorney sent the following out to the employees in his company:


1. Do not sign the back of your credit cards. Instead, put ‘PHOTO ID REQUIRED.’ [Not true, because most credit cards are not valid without an authorized signature; a good merchant will compare the signature you wrote on the charge slip with the signature on your card AND the one on your photo ID.]

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. The credit card company knows the rest of the number, and anyone who might be handling your check as it passes through all the check processing channels won’t have access to it. [Don’t leave the number off completely, just in case the preprinted slip that you return along with your payment gets separated from your check. Even better, simply pay your bill online and you’re done!]

3. Put your work phone # on your checks instead of your home phone. [Or leave it off completely; if a merchant requires a phone number, it can be written on the check at the time of the transaction.] If you have a PO Box use that instead of your home address. If you do not have a PO Box, use your work address. Never have your SS# printed on your checks. You can add it if it is necessary. But if you have it printed, anyone can get it.

4. Place the contents of your wallet on photocopy machine. Do both sides of each license, credit card, etc. You will know what you had in your wallet and all of the account numbers and phone numbers to call and cancel. Keep the photocopy in a safe place. [Even better, don’t keep so many cards in your wallet that you can’t remember what all is in there! Just take the ones you need and leave the rest at home.]

I also carry a photocopy of my passport when I travel either here or abroad. We’ve all heard horror stories about fraud that’s committed on us in stealing a name, address, Social Security number, credit cards…

Unfortunately, I, an attorney, have firsthand knowledge because my wallet was stolen last month. Within a week, the thieves ordered an expensive monthly cell phone package, applied for a VISA credit card, had a credit line approved to buy a Gateway computer, received a PIN number from DMV to change my driving record information online, and more.

But here’s some critical information to limit the damage in case this happens to you or someone you know:

5. We have been told we should cancel our credit cards immediately. But the key is having the toll free numbers and your card numbers handy so you know whom to call. Keep those where you can find them.

6. File a police report immediately in the jurisdiction where your credit cards, etc., were stolen. This proves to credit providers you were diligent, and this is a first step toward an investigation (if there ever is one).

But here’s what is perhaps most important of all: (I never even thought to do this).

7. Call the 3 national credit reporting organizations immediately to place a fraud alert on your name and Social Security number. I had never heard of doing that until advised by a bank that called to tell me an application for credit was made over the Internet in my name.

The alert means any company that checks your credit knows your information was stolen, and they have to contact you by phone to authorize new credit.

By the time I was advised to do this, almost two weeks after the theft, all the damage had been done. There are records of all the credit checks initiated by the thieves’ purchases, none of which I knew about before placing the alert. Since then, no additional damage has been done, and the thieves threw my wallet away this weekend (someone turned it in). It seems to have stopped them dead in their tracks.

Now, here are the numbers you always need to contact about your wallet, if it has been stolen:

1.) Equifax: 1-800-525-6285

2.) Experian (formerly TRW): 1-888-397-3742

3.) Trans Union: 1-800-680-7289

We pass along jokes on the Internet; we pass along just about everything.

If you are willing to pass this information along, it could really help someone that you care about.

P.S. If you think you may have become a victim of identity theft, contact the FTC at 1-877-438-4338 or through its website at

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