8 Tips for Protecting Your Identity
Millions of consumers are victims of identity theft in the United States every year. Identity theft can ruin your credit or cost you thousands of dollars and hours of hassle. These eight tips can help you avoid identity theft.
1. Only Give Out Your Personal Information When You Have To
If someone asks you for your address, phone number, driver's license number, social security number or other personal information, ask them why they need it. If you can conduct whatever business you are conducting with this person without providing them with your personal information, decline to provide it. If the other party has a legitimate reason to need your information, ask them what they will do to ensure your information remains safe. Inquire about alternative methods of identification. Identity proofing enables you to verify you are who say you are, without exposing your personal information to the other party.
2. Take Advantage of Security Freezes and Fraud Alerts
Many banks and credit card companies provide security protections, such as freezing accounts and notifying consumers by phone, text or e-mail when they notice suspicious activity. This can prevent thieves from withdrawing money from your accounts or using your credit or debit cards to make purchases. Additionally, if you suspect you may have been a victim of identity theft, you can place a freeze on your credit reports with all three major credit bureaus. A security freeze can make it difficult for thieves to open new accounts in your name because it prevents lenders from viewing your credit report. However, a freeze will not totally prevent someone from opening accounts, because some creditors do not check credit reports. You can also place a fraud alert on your report that will be visible to any lenders accessing your report and should discourage them from approving any new accounts.
3. Protect Your Electronic Devices
Electronic devices, such as computers, smartphones and tablets, store a lot of personal information. Install reliable anti-virus, anti-malware, anti-spyware and anti-phishing software on your devices. Make sure your firewall is turned on. Always use strong passwords and do not use the same password on all of your devices and accounts. Consider changing your password every 30 days or any time you think it may have been compromised.
4. Check Your Credit Report
You should check your credit reports at least once a year. If you spot any accounts you did not open, inquiries you didn't authorize, or the balances seem wrong, you should report this to the credit bureau to dispute these items. You should also look for any judgments or collection activity that you do not recognize. The Fair Credit Reporting Act entitles you to a free annual credit report. You can also request a copy of your report any time you are turned down for something based on your credit report.
5. Check Your Accounts Frequently
Most banks and credit cards offer online access to your accounts. Take advantage of this feature to check your accounts regularly. If you wait for your monthly statement to come out to check for fraudulent activity, thieves could have charged thousands of dollars to your account before you notice.
6. Report Theft Immediately
If you lose your wallet, notice a suspicious charge on an account or have other reasons to think your identity might have been stolen, do not wait to act. Immediately inform your bank and your creditors and file a police report. They will usually close your existing accounts and issue you new ones with different account numbers. The longer you wait, the more time thieves have to run up charges and the harder the problem will be to fix.
7. Opt-out of Pre-screened Credit Offers
Thieves can steal credit card offers out of your mailbox, open accounts in your name and then steal the cards out of your mailbox when they arrive. You can avoid this potential avenue of theft by opting out of pre-screened credit card offers.
8. Purchase a Secure Mailbox
Most people receive mail that contains personal information that could be useful to identity thieves. A secure mailbox can prevent thieves from swiping your mail out of your mailbox. Secure mailboxes have a slot for postal workers to insert your mail. Once the mail is in a secure mailbox, it can only be removed by a person with a key to the box. Secure mailboxes do not protect your outgoing mail, so it is best to take that mail to the post office, rather than leaving it in your mailbox.
While there are protections in place that prevent you from being on the hook for most fraudulent transactions, dealing with identity theft can still be a frustrating and time-consuming process. These eight tips can help you avoid the frustration and potential financial consequences of identity theft.