Preventing Identity Theft
What is identity theft?
Check out this short intro video from the Federal Trade Commission (they are the folks in charge of protecting consumers in the U.S.) on what identity theft is.
Why should you care about identity theft?
You may be wondering why it is important to care about identity theft. If you do not do your due diligence in keeping your personal information secure to prevent identity theft, when you go to buy a new car, home or get a job when you graduate, you may find that someone has opened credit cards in your name and they are all past due or when you go to e-File your tax return, the IRS says someone has already filed under that SSN. For more reasons to care, check out this short video from the FTC on what can happen if you don’t keep your personal information secure.
Signs of Identity Theft
What can someone do with my personal information?
- Open new credit card accounts and charge to them.
- Open a new gas, electric or phone account.
- Steal your tax refund.
- Drain your bank account.
- Get medical using your insurance information.
- Use your identity if they are arrested.
How can this information be stolen?
- Online when shopping on an insecure site.
- Steal mail or garbage that contains your Social Security number or account numbers.
- Trick you into giving them your personal information via e-mail or over the phone.
- Steal your information from a business or medical office.
- Steal your wallet or purse.
Play an interactive game here to use the case of the cybercriminal to further understand how identity thieves obtain your personal information.
How do you know if you are a victim of identity theft?
There are a few ways you can tell on your own if your identity has been stolen (you may also use a credit report monitoring program to alert you to any suspicious activities, generally for a fee).
- Do you see any charges on your bills that you did not buy?
- On your bank statement (or online banking website) notice charges or withdrawals that you do not recognize?
- Has a bill that you normally get in the mail stopped coming? Have you gotten a bill for an account that you did not open?
- Check your credit report- Are there accounts listed that you did not open or do not recognize? Is there an account balance that you did expect to see?
- Have you gotten a call from a debt collector for a debt that is not yours?
- Were you notified by the IRS that someone has already filed a tax return in your name?
- Did you receive notification from a business that they experienced a data breach, and you have an account with them?
If you can answer yes to any of the above questions, your identity may have been stolen.
Your Credit Report
The easiest way to check for identity theft is to check your credit report once a year (and is also good financial practice). The law entitles you to get this report from all three credit reporting companies for FREE once a year. Check out this video from the Federal Trade Commission on how to request your free report. Simply log on to www.annualcreditreport.com or call 1-877-322-8228 to request your report.
Once you have pulled your report, give it a good look over and make sure that if you find any irregularities on your credit report, make a call to the credit reporting company and financial institution to correct the error.
Immediate Steps to Take to Repair Identity Theft
If you determine that you have been a victim of identity theft. There are three steps that you should take immediately.
- Place a fraud alert at one of the three credit reporting companies.
- To do this you simply call one of the three credit reporting companies and inform them that you believe you have been a victim of identity theft and would like to place a fraud alert on your account.
- You only need to call one agency to place the hold. The company that you call will then tell the other crediting reporting agencies of the fraud alert.
- This alert will be good for 90 days and can be renewed if necessary.
- The initial fraud alert will stop anyone who attempts to open a credit account using your personal information.
- Order a copy of your credit reports. Once you have placed the fraud alert, you are now entitled to a free credit report from all three of the credit reporting companies.
- Ask for the reports to be sent with only the last four digits of your Social Security number on them.
- With these reports make a note of any of the accounts you believe have been tampered with or that you did not open yourself at all.
- Create an Identity Theft Report.
- This report is your Identity Theft Affidavit from filing your report to the FTC and your police report combined and will help you later when correcting your credit report and personal accounts.
- File a complaint with the FTC.
- How to file a complaint with the FTC:
- Take your Identity Theft Affidavit once it is completed and take it with you to file a police report.
- Simply go to your local police department where the theft occurred to file this report.
Check out this document from the FTC for a complete list of what to do next after you complete the first 3 immediate steps to Repair Identity Theft. PDF Document
Why You Should Fix Your Credit Report
Much like the reasons for why you should care about identity theft, you should fix your credit report because the fraudulent information from the identity thief can do the following:
- Keep a company from hiring you.
- Prevent you from getting a cell phone.
- Open an utilities account in your name.
- Borrow money from a lender.
- Or, rent an apartment.
Other Ways to Protect Yourself
These services can help you by placing a "lock", "hold", or "freeze" on your account so that when any new account request comes through it will not be processed until you provide a password. These services can also be set up to send you alerts when an inquiry is made on your credit report, if a balance changes by a stated percentage or a new account is added. All of these benefits do have a price though, so make sure that before you pay for this kind of service give the service a trial to make sure that it tracks and monitors the way you want it.
These companies also offer additional services like helping you rebuild your credit after identity theft, removing your name from mailing lists and "guaranteeing" reimbursement in the event that you become a victim of identity theft, or helping you determine if your personal information has been exposed online.
Active Duty Alerts
For those service members that are on active duty can request to have the alert put on by any of the credit reporting agencies as an extra layer of security while they are deployed. All that is needed to request this is to contact the credit agency. Once on the phone with the credit reporting company, you will ask to have the alert added to your account and you will be asked to provide proof of your identity. Only one call to a credit reporting company is needed. Once the alert is placed on your account with the company you chose to call, the company will contact the others on your behalf. This alert is good for one year, if needed you can renew this alert. Make a record of when you made the calls and when you may need to renew the alert for your files.