Identity theft occurs when an identity thief takes your social security number or other personal data and uses it to open accounts or receive services fraudulently. This might include opening up new bank or credit accounts, receiving medical services, filing a tax return, or even using your information in a pending police case.
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), as many as nine million Americans deal with being an identity theft victim. Fortunately, there are a few steps that you can take to protect your confidential information and prevent identity theft. There are also things that you can do to deal with potential id theft, such as reporting it to your credit bureau, the FTC, or the police.
You can prevent identity theft with the following steps:
Set Up Account Alerts
Life can get busy, which can make it difficult to keep up with both legitimate or suspicious activity to your bank account or credit card accounts. By setting up account alerts with your financial institution, you will receive notifications of any activity that might be a cause for concern.
You can set up account alerts for your debit card or credit card for:
- Large withdraws
- Large transfers
- Fraudulent activity like unusual card usage
- Fraudulent charges or charges that seem unusual
These alerts can help you identify suspicious behavior faster. In addition to account alerts, it is also a good idea to routinely monitor your financial information and even purchase identity theft insurance through your credit card company or financial institution. Review your bank statements each month and look for any unfamiliar charges. Keep track of each of your bank accounts, including recurring and one-time charges.
Sign Up For Credit Monitoring Services
Signing up for credit monitoring services is similar to setting up account alerts, except that the alerts notify you of changes to your credit report.
You can use these alerts to:
- Notify you when a new credit application is submitted
- Notify you when a new line of credit is opened
- Inform you of any personal information changes
- Inform you of any credit inquires
- Notify you of new public records
- Notify you of any past-due accounts sent to the collections
Credit alerts can also help you keep on top of your finances. Your credit score is an important factor in obtaining funding for a mortgage or new vehicle purchase.
Frequently Check Your Credit Reports
Your credit report includes a detailed report of your credit history. One of the best ways to monitor your credit reports for inaccuracies is to check the information listed in them routinely. It is a good idea to review each credit section carefully every couple of months. Fortunately, each of the major credit reporting agencies makes it easy to dispute any items that are not accurate in your report.
When checking your credit reports, look for:
- Accuracy of addresses and phone number
- Public records or accounts that you’re not familiar with
- Accuracy of employment
- Credit inquiries you are not familiar with
Federal law requires each of the credit reporting companies to provide consumers with one free copy of their credit report each year. This includes a copy of your credit report from the three main reporting agencies, including Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. You can divide your free reports into one report every four months, meaning you can monitor your credit for free.
Frequently Check Your Mail
Many people make the mistake of assuming that their personal information is only at risk in a digital setting. However, physical identity theft is still a risk. When credit card and banking companies send you items in the mail, and those mail items make it into the wrong hands, you are at risk of identity theft.
Credit card pre-approval offers, bank statements, credit card statements, and school records all contain an abundance of personal data that is useful to identity theft criminals. You can reduce your chances of being the victim of mail theft by checking for credit cards, and bank cards that you know are coming. It is also a good idea to shred any documents that contain your personal information before throwing them away.
Protect Your Social Security Number
Your social security number is an important tool that is used to open bank accounts, apply for loans, obtain loans, and even file your state and federal taxes. Make sure you are taking the necessary steps to protect your social security number.
You can protect your social security number with the following steps:
- Memorize your number and avoid carrying your physical card with you
- Add a second identification method to your social security online account
- Be careful who you give your social security number to
- Shred documents that contain your social security number
When browsing online, some programs might request your social security number. Before giving this information, ensure that you are on the right website and that they use an encrypted server.
Take Action If You Suspect Suspicious Behavior
Identity theft can get worse, leading to criminals taking out larger loans or defaulting on higher amounts of debt if they get away with it for a while. Diligently monitoring your credit and financial documents can help you learn of potential identity theft earlier, which allows you to take action to prevent further identity theft.
Just a few signs that might be considered suspicious behavior include:
- Receiving past-due letters in the mail for accounts you don’t know about
- Failing to receive bills or financial documents that you are expecting
- Noticing unfamiliar accounts on your report
- Someone changing your address or contact information on your credit report
- Receiving medical bills for services you did not receive
- Being notified that multiple tax returns were submitted in your name
- Receiving phone calls from debt collectors for accounts you don’t know about
- Being notified that your data has been compromised due from data breach
If you notice any of these potentially suspicious actions, it is important to take action immediately. First, you will want to file a fraud alert and freeze your accounts. Then, notify the lender of the fraudulent behavior. If you receive suspicious emails, make sure you know who’s sending them. Whenever you talk to any stranger online, it’s important to know vital information about who they are. Tools like Instant Social Report help track down their social media/email information.
By placing a freeze on your account, no new credit or accounts can be issued with your social security number or name. You can also report the identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission. If you are concerned about missing funds or police activity, you will also want to file a police report.
Anyone with a social security number is at risk of identity theft. By monitoring your records and looking out for suspicious activity, you can reduce your chances of being the victim of identity theft. If you do notice any inaccurate information, taking action immediately can prevent the problem from getting worse.
If you receive suspicious emails, make sure you know who’s sending them. Whenever you talk to any stranger online, it’s important to know vital information about who they are. There are tools out there that help track down their social media/email information.
Instant Social Support is a website that searches any email account. Plug in the email, hit search, and the site displays information about that person’s account. Instant Social Report backtracks emails to their social media accounts, tracking down important information about people who may know you. And it’s completely free. Try it out at https://instantsocialreport.com/landing/home