What should you do to protect yourself against identity theft?
According to the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) in San Diego, up to 7 million people are victims of identity theft each year … this translates to more than a dozen people per minute! Thanks in part to the internet revolution and the increase in the use of credit and debit cards over the past few decades, a greater number of people have access to our sensitive personal information, which has dramatically increased the risk of identity theft. Identity thieves are often highly sophisticated criminals, using technology to steal your personal information … instead of dumpster diving or stealing mail.
To protect yourself against identity theft, shred or burn papers with credit card or bank account numbers, Social Security numbers or other personal information before throwing them away. Don't have your Social Security Number printed on your checks. Make sure that you check your credit report at least once per year to make sure it doesn't have accounts you don't know about. It's also a good idea to check your credit report before applying for a loan, if you've been denied for credit, or if you're planning to take steps to repair your credit. Under federal law, consumers who believe their identity has been stolen are eligible to receive a free credit report. These reports can be easily ordered on-line from all three major credit bureaus, or from a site like FreeCreditReport.com. Carefully read through each line of your reports, taking note of any discrepancies, unfamiliar accounts or credit inquiries, or any incorrect information (wrong home addresses, phone numbers, etc).
If somebody acting in your name illegally openes new credit accounts or applies for unsecured loans, you can ask the credit agencies to issue an initial fraud alert on your credit report. This is the same step you would take if, for example, your wallet has been lost or stolen. An initial alert requires companies to contact you to confirm requests for new accounts before they are established. In the event of more serious theft, you can have an extended alert placed on your credit report,which lasts for seven years, and entitles you to two free credit reports within twelve months from each of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies. Consumer reporting companies will remove your name from their lists for pre-screened credit offers for five years. Contact all of the creditors who have issued fraudulent accounts to dispute any charges. By law you have 60 days from the day you receive your credit card or banking statements to contest any charges; after that you may be held liable for any false charges, regardless of whether or not you actually incurred them! Some creditors will require you to file a police report. Close all accounts that you know or suspect have been tampered with.
Be alert for e-mail “phishing” scams. "Phishing" is the attempt to obtain personal information via fraudulent email. These e-mails look real and are an attempt to scam you into surrendering private information. The e-mail will usually contain a link to a bogus Web site where you will be asked to update personal information, such as passwords and credit card, social security, and bank account numbers. Reputable organizations will almost NEVER send you and e-mail asking you to send personal information! If you do receive such an e-mail and are not certain whether is is fraudulent or not, call the company involved.
Unfortulately, identity theft is a fact of life and repairing your damaged credit and reputation can take months or years and cost you a lot of money. Be alert to possible fraud and take preventive action to minimize your chances of becoming a victim. Take the ID Theft quiz
at LifeLock.com to see if you are at risk for identity theft!