How to Protect Your Identity

Identity ProtectionIn today’s digitally social and mobile society, we need to increase measures to protect our personal identification. Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in the United States. Identity theft happens when someone steals your personal information, like social security number, credit card number, driver license number, health insurance card, or other financial account information and uses it without your permission to commit fraud or other crimes for their own personal gain.

Once identity thieves have your personal information, they can drain your bank account, run up charges on your credit cards, open new utility accounts, or get medical treatment on your health insurance. It can start with a lost or stolen wallet, stolen mail, a data breach, computer virus, “phishing” scams or paper documents thrown out by you or a business. The FTC estimates roughly 9 million Americans have their identity stolen each year. So what can we do?

HOW TO PROTECT YOUR INFORMATION:

  • Read your credit reports. You have a right to a free credit report every 12 months from each of the three nationwide credit reporting companies. To order go to annual credit report.com or call 1-877-322-8228.
  • Read your bank, credit card, and account statements and the explanation of medical benefits from your health plan. If a statement has mistakes or doesn’t come on time, contact the business.
  • Shred all documents that show personal, financial, and medical information before you throw them away.
  • Don’t respond to email, text, and phone messages, which ask for personal information. Legitimate companies don’t ask for information this way. Delete the messages.
  • Create passwords that mix letters, numbers, and special characters. Don’t use the same password for more than one account.
  • If you shop or bank online, use websites that protect your financial information with encryption. An encrypted site has “https” at the beginning of the web address; “s” is for secure.
  • Use anti-virus and anti-spyware software, and a firewall on your computer.
  • Set you computer’s operating system, web browser, and security systems to update automatically.
  • Set up an identity protection and/or credit monitoring service. The sooner you find out about fraudulent behavior the better. Both services can alert you of any activity with identification or on credit reports. Most identity protection services will assign on point person to assist with the restoration process, insurance protections, and reimbursements if necessary.

IF YOUR IDENTITY IS STOLEN:

1. Flag your credit reports. Call one of the nationwide credit reporting companies, and ask for a fraud alert on your credit report. The company you call must contact the other two so they can put fraud alerts on your file. An initial fraud alert is good for 90 days.

Equifax 1-800-525-6285
Experian 1-888-397-3742
TransUnion 1-800-680-7289

2. Order your credit reports. If you see mistakes or signs of fraud, contact the credit reporting company.

3. Create an Identity Theft Report. An identity theft report can help you get fraudulent information removed from your credit report, stop a company from collecting debts caused by identity theft, and get information about accounts a thief opened in your name.
To create an Identity Theft Report:
File a complaint with the FTC at ftc.gov/compliant or call 1-877-438-4338.
Take your FTC affidavit to your local police or to the police where the crime occurred, and file a police report.

While identity theft is not preventable, you can take these precautionary steps to minimize your risk. For more information on identity protection and credit monitoring services, contact our office at 248-905-1625

SOURCE: Federal Trade Commission ftc.gov/idtheft

UPDATE:  In light of the recent Target Corporation’s credit-card and debit-card data breach over the holiday shopping season, the Examinar.com reviewed whether credit monitoring will help reduce identity theft.  They concluded that the best offense against identity theft today is to purchase comprehensive identity theft protection.” 

Samirian Hill, The MoneyWise Teacher, is President and Founder of BudgetWise Financial Solutions, where they teach people or organizations how to manage money, save money or make money.  She enjoys golfing, reading and cooking.  Read more about www.budgetwisefinancial.com

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