Guest Post from Lexington Law
In today’s increasingly digital society, identity theft is an issue that plagues millions of Americans. Identity theft
happens when someone steals your personal information to reap financial benefit. This information might include your name and address, credit card or bank accounts, social security number, or insurance account numbers.
Identity thieves are becoming increasingly clever and coy, making it harder for you to catch them in the act. Many things that seem harmless actually leave us vulnerable to identity theft
. For example, while sharing a photo of your boarding pass on social media or leaving it in the seat pocket after a flight may just seem like a small error of judgment, tech-savvy thieves can use the bar code on the boarding pass to infiltrate your identity.
The best way to protect yourself from identity theft is securing your financial assets and vital information as much as possible. Here are some preventative measures you can take to protect yourself from identity theft
and to identify it early should you become a victim:
Review Your Financial Statements Thoroughly
When checking your financial statements, be thorough and look at every charge. Making assumptions about small incongruencies and writing them off as isolated errors could prevent you from detecting identity theft. Treat every inconsistency as an instance of potential fraud and do your due diligence in following up with your bank or credit card company.
As an unexpected benefit, these thorough reviews of your financial statements might increase your financial literacy as you start to become hyper-aware of your money-spending habits.
Protect Your Credit Score
An initial fraud alert will make it more difficult for someone else to open an account in your name. Initial fraud alerts can be requested both proactively — when you suspect there been fraud — and reactively — when you have confirmed that your financial information has been compromised — to protect your credit score.
These alerts can be set up through one of the three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) and are active for 90 days. When requesting an initial fraud alert, you need only alert one of the three credit reporting agencies, which will, in turn, alert the other two.
If your identity is stolen, here are steps you can take to shield yourself from financial and credit-related damages, and protect yourself from future infiltration:
Protect Your Finances
Once you have confirmed that your identity has been compromised, notify your creditors and banks. Even if you have identified the source of the infiltration, you should contact all potential creditors and banks as a preventative measure. Acting quickly will protect your finances since you are less likely to be liable for any transactions that take place after you have reported the theft.
Set Up an Extended Fraud Alert
An extended fraud alert requires you to submit a copy of an identity theft report. Like the initial fraud alert, you’ll only need to file a report with one of the three agencies. Unlike the initial alert, however, the extended alert will last for seven years. An extended fraud alert grants you two free credit reports at all three credit reporting agencies in the first year following the report to allow you to more closely monitor your credit.
Request a Security Freeze
A security freeze will lock your credit score from being reported or viewed by anyone, including banks and creditors. If you suspect that your identity has been stolen, requesting a security freeze on your credit will help shield you from the impact. If you have plans to apply for a loan, mortgage, or any other kind of financing from a lender, a security freeze is not recommended, as you are not likely to get approved for a loan without granting creditors access to your financial history.
Contact Your Local Police
Filing a police report with your local police department will probably not lead to the arrest of the person who stole your identity. It will, however, show your intent to proactively get the matter handled by an official government agency. Along with notifying your bank, filing a police report is one of the steps you can take that may serve as leverage should you need to dispute future unauthorized transactions.
Open a New Account
After you’ve alerted the proper channels, filed an identity theft report, and discussed it with your bank, it may be recommended that you close your compromised accounts and open new ones. While this can be cumbersome, it can also ultimately get you in a better place with your finances and credit.
Remember, the Best Offense Is Good Defense
Memorize your social security number: Carrying around your social security card could lead to it falling into the wrong hands. All hard copies should be kept safely under lock and key.
Shred documents: When you no longer need printed documents with personal or sensitive information, shred them instead of simply throwing them away. If you are not able to access a shredder, tearing them up manually is worth the effort and may still prevent someone from illegally acquiring your personal information.
Create strong passwords: Creating passwords that are neither predictable nor easily decoded — by humans or machines — will help keep your vital information safe. Avoid using common words, phrases, or numerical combinations that could be easily deduced by a thief, such as references to your alma mater or your child’s birthday. The mixed-use of capital letters, numbers, and symbols all help make passwords harder to infiltrate. Additionally, using multiple passwords across your accounts will provide some assurance that, in the event that someone gets a hold of one password, they won’t necessarily be able to use it to access all of your financial information.
If you’re worried that your identity may have been unlawfully compromised, it’s extremely important to be vigilant. Being proactive in your everyday habits will help you protect your personal information from opportunistic identity thieves.