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Guest Post by Erin Ellis
While identity theft can happen to anyone, you can take steps to reduce your risk. Identity theft is the fraudulent use of an individual’s personal information for financial gain. Identity thieves can use a person’s Social Security Number, mother’s maiden name, date of birth, or account number to open fraudulent new credit card accounts, charge existing credit card accounts, or obtain new loans. The following tips will help you protect yourself from identity theft:
Avoid sharing your personal information
Don’t give out your personal information or leave it exposed for anyone to see. This includes your home address, phone number, driver’s license, and your Social Security Number.
Track your monthly statements
Set time aside to track your monthly statements provided by your credit union or bank. Review the overall summary of the activity associated with your account. If you recognize something that’s incorrect, whether it’s an account you didn’t open, transactions you didn’t make, or any other suspicious activity, report it immediately. Your credit union or bank can then work quickly to identify the fraudulent activity and cancel your debit or credit card.
Monitor your credit reports on a regular basis
Frequently monitor your credit by accessing your reports. This will reveal signs of identity theft, and you may be able to catch it early on. You can check your credit reports for free from three major credit bureaus at annualcreditreport.com.
Freeze your credit
A credit freeze, also known as a security freeze, is a free tool that allows you to restrict access to your credit report. To fully protect your credit by freezing it, you’re required to initiate a freeze with each of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. After they receive your freeze request, each credit bureau will provide you with a unique PIN or password in case you choose to lift the freeze in the future.
This feature makes it more difficult for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name, due to the fact that most creditors need to see your credit report before they approve a new account. If they can’t view your report, they may not extend the credit.
Opt out of pre-approved credit card offers
An additional way that an ID thief can obtain your personal information is by stealing your mail. Typically, many pre-approved credit card applications arrive in your mailbox. Identity thieves can use your address and send it in. By calling 888-5-OPTOUT, you can opt out of receiving these offers for two years. However, for permanent opt-out status, you can submit your request in writing and send it to the three main credit reporting agencies.
Learn more from professional resources
By visiting MyCreditUnion.gov, which is hosted by the National Credit Union Association and serves as a financial literacy resource library, you can obtain a wide range of informative articles on finance and fraud prevention. Visit your local credit union or bank to learn more about how you can reduce your risk. PFCU also offers resources and additional information to its members and will work with them to quickly identify suspicious activity and resolve any fraudulent charges.
It’s important to anticipate potential risks of identity theft before you fall victim. Once you lose your identity, it can be very difficult to restore it before any major damage is done. Reference these tips, and you’ll be prepared for financial success.
Erin Ellis is an Accredited Financial Counselor at Philadelphia Federal Credit Union (PFCU) where she develops PFCU’s financial education curriculum, provides one-one-one counseling with members, and presents financial seminars to PFCU members and a wide network of social services organizations throughout the Philadelphia region. Erin is passionate about helping individuals and families better manage their money and achieve their financial goals.