Having your identity stolen is inconvenient and violating at best and extremely costly at worst. Cancelling credit cards, closing old accounts and opening new ones, changing addresses, proving the legitimacy of your identification and getting replacements… it can all be overwhelming, scary, time-consuming, and expensive.
Identity theft happens more often than might be expected – as of spring 2018, over 60 million Americans have had their identity threatened, breached, or stolen, with 15 million of those instances occurring in 2017 alone.
Statistics also indicate that the number of breaches and thefts is steadily on the rise, which leads to questions: Could it happen to me? Where is my information vulnerable? What can I do to protect myself?
Here are some answers and suggestions for you to consider:
Common Types of Identity Theft
- Employment or Tax-related Fraud: This happens when a criminal uses another’s Social Security number and/or other personal information to illegally gain employment or to file a fraudulent income tax return.
- Credit Card Fraud: This happens when a thief uses another’s credit/debit card or credit/debit card number to make fraudulent purchases.
- Phone or Utility Fraud: This happens when a criminal uses someone else’s personal information to open a wireless phone or utility account.
- Bank Fraud: This happens when a hacker uses another’s personal information to take over an existing financial account or to open a new account in someone else’s name.
- Loan or Lease Fraud: This happens when a fraudulent borrower or a lessee uses another’s information to obtain the loan or lease.
- Government Documents or Benefits Fraud: This happens when a thief uses stolen personal information to obtain government benefits.
Protection Steps I Can Take Now
- Secure your Social Security number (SSN). Don’t carry your Social Security card in your wallet or write your number on your checks. Use discretion and only give out your SSN when absolutely necessary, especially during a phone conversation.
- Don’t respond to unsolicited requests for personal information (your name, birthdate, Social Security number, or bank account number) by phone, mail, or online.
- Contact the three credit reporting agencies to request a freeze of your credit reports: TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax.
- Collect mail promptly. Place a hold on your mail when you are away from home for several days to avoid theft.
- Pay attention to your billing cycles. If bills or financial statements are late, contact the sender.
- Enable the security features on your mobile devices, especially if you have contacts, banking websites, and applications saved.
- Update sharing and firewall settings when you’re on a public wi-fi network. Consider using a virtual private network, which can give you the privacy of a secured private network.
- Review your credit card and bank account statements upon receiving. Promptly compare receipts with account statements. Watch for unexpected or unauthorized transactions.
- Shred receipts, credit offers, account statements, and expired credit cards, to prevent “dumpster divers” from getting your personal information.
- Store personal information in a safe place.
- Install firewalls and virus-detection software on your home computer.
- Create complex passwords that identity thieves cannot guess easily. Change your passwords if a company that you do business with has a breach of its databases.
- Review your credit report once a year to be certain that it doesn’t include accounts that you have not opened. You can order it for free from Annualcreditreport.com. (source: USA.gov)
Protection Tools to Employ
Research and employ a protection agency that can offer, at a minimum, the following services:
Credit Monitoring – monitor your credit scores across Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion, to quickly detect unexpected changes.
Fraud Detection – a dedicated team of fraud detection specialists (like that of Experian) who notify you in the event of an attempted identity or credit breach.
Credit Lock – receive an alert in the event of credit fraud so you the option to instantly lock your credit file to protect against any attempted intrusion.
Dark Web Surveillance – Experian’s cybersecurity division scans the dark web daily, to detect if your information is being compromised.
Fraud Resolution Support – support you need every step of the way in any event of identity fraud, with a team of experts trained to fix any issue with your credit.
Identity Theft Insurance – In the unlikely event that your identity is stolen, use a company that will have you covered for up to $1 Million in stolen funds, lost wages, or more.