When you consider that the results of Identity Theft can keep you from getting a job, can result in suddenly raised interest rates on your credit cards, and can even increase your car insurance rates, it’s certainly worth making sure you are well-informed about this growing threat. First, just what is identity theft? Those who commit identity theft obtain your social security number, perhaps your birth date, and certain other identifying information about you and use that information to open accounts in your name. They then use these accounts to fraudulently purchase consumer goods, apply for car loans, lines of credit, and credit cards, to name a few. Often, identity thieves use fraudulent addresses for these accounts, so it may be some time before you become aware that your identity has, in fact, been stolen since the bills are going to the fraudulent address.
This is one reason it is so very important to take advantage of your ability to check your credit report often. By law you are entitled to a free credit report every year (really!) from the 3 major credit bureaus. Learn all about it here Free Credit Report. A wealth of information regarding identity theft is also available to you at www.consumer.gov/idtheft. First, let’s consider what a careful consumer must do today to avoid identity theft.
- Shred any documents which have account numbers, your social security numbers, or any other identifying information on them if you are disposing of them. If you don’t have a shredder, invest in one.
- Shred any of those credit card offers you receive in the mail.
- Don’t leave outgoing mail in your mail box for the mail carrier to pick up. Mail it directly into a postal box. Outgoing mail in your box is an open invitation to identity thieves.
- Going out of town? Make sure you contact your local post office to put a “stop mail” order on your address. Collect the mail from them when you return. Don’t allow it to pile up in your home mail box for even a day or two.
- When asked for identifying information, particularly your Social Security Number, try an alternate route. If your state defaults to your Social Security Number as your Driver’s License Number (many do), request that your Driver’s License Number NOT be your Social Security Number.
- DO NOT have your Social Security Number OR Driver’s License Number printed on your checks.
- Using a charge card in a store or restaurant? Make sure you get it back, and make sure you destroy your carbons. Then check those credit card statements each month to make sure you actually made those transactions.
- Be alert to any changes your bank or credit card companies may notify you about in regards to interest rates they want to charge you. If your identity has been stolen, thieves may have made transactions which impact your credit, and therefore the rates you are charged for credit.
- Make sure you know who is in your home and when. Service deliveries, moving people, cleaners, maintenance employees, etc, could all be potential identity thieves.
- Maintain and safeguard a current list of all credit accounts you have. A safety deposit box is a great place to keep such a list. Your desk at home or at work is not.
- DO NOT respond to requests by phone, mail, or email to “update” or “confirm” your personal information with any account holder. As legitimate as it may look, such scams are designed to capture your information for fraudulent use. Your bank and credit card holders will NOT ask for this information. Be sure to contact any of them directly (not the contact information in the communication you received) to inform them of the scam.
Even despite all your precautions, what happens if identity theft does occur? There are some steps you should take immediately. First both call AND write the three major credit bureaus. Ask each of them to put a fraud alert on your account and to allow you to supply a victim statement to each of them. This is the contact information:
- Equifax: 800-525-6285. Also write them at P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA, 30374-0241
- Experian: 888-397-3742. Also write them at P.O. Box 9532, Allen, Texas, 75013.
- TransUnion: 800-680-7289. Also write them at Fraud Victim Assistant Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, Ca, 92834-6790.
You should also contact your primary bank. Closing your accounts and re-opening new ones may be in order. Inform your employer to be sure the information did not somehow leak from their records. Then trot out that list you have in your safety deposit bank and notify each creditor. It’s time-consuming, frustrating, and really irritating---so your very best bet is to protect your very valuable personal information from potential theft.
This and many other articles about your personal finances can be found at http://www.usacreditunions.com. Search, Find, and Join one today!