Identity (ID) theft is a crime where a thief steals your personal information, such as your full name or Social Security number, to commit fraud. The identity thief can use your information to fraudulently apply for credit, file taxes, or get medical services. These acts can damage your credit status, and cost you time and money to restore your good name. You may not know that you are the victim of ID theft until you experience a financial consequence (mystery bills, credit collections, denied loans) down the road from actions that the thief has taken with your stolen identity.
Take steps to protect yourself from identity theft:
- Secure your Social Security number (SSN). Don’t carry your Social Security card in your wallet or write your number on your checks. Only give out your SSN when absolutely necessary.
- 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 each of the three main credit reporting companies Equifax (www.equifax.com); Experian (www.experian.com); and TransUnion (www.transunion.com) and freeze your credit report.
- Collect mail promptly. Place a hold on your mail when you are away from home for several days.
- Enable the security features on 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 secured private network.
- Review your credit card and bank account statements. Promptly compare receipts with account statements. Watch for unauthorized transactions.
- Shred receipts, credit offers, account statements, and expired credit cards, to prevent “dumpster divers” from getting your personal information.
- 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
- Always use two factor authentication if the company offers it.
- 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.
- One way crooks steal your name is by swiping pre-approved credit offers from your mailbox to open an account. They can then watch your mailbox to lift the new card you didn’t know was coming. You can stop credit bureaus from selling your name to lenders by going to www.optoutprescreen.com or calling 888-567-8688. Opting out should stop most offers, and it’s free.
Each year you should check for signs of possible identity theft. Most are free. Here are a few sites:
- Full File Disclosure: includes a public-records search, auto and homeowner claims reports, pre-employment background checks, searches for criminal records and evictions, and address history. Go to www.choicetrust.com and click on “Access Your Personal Information.”
- Annual statement of medical benefit is a record of your health-insurance claims and medical treatment. Contact your health insurer to find out how to get this information
- MIB consumer file has coded listings of medical conditions and tests, hazardous hobbies, and driving records. It’s used by U.S. and Canadian life insurers to decide whether to issue a policy. Call 866-692-6901 or go to www.mib.com/html/request_your_record.html.
- Driving record has your history of moving violations, points, your physical description, address, license status, and other details. Contact your state department of motor vehicles directly to get a copy for a fee. Beware of online middlemen selling the same information at higher costs.
- Chex TeleCheck reports. For TeleCheck, go to www.firstdata.com/telecheck/telecheck-request-file-report.htm