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Identity Theft Tips

Identity Theft Tips

 To prevent/minimize the impact of data breaches and identity theft:

  1. Religiously read and scrutinize your bank and credit card statements every month. If you see something that does not look right, contact the institution immediately. They will generally suspend the payment of the suspicious transaction pending a more thorough investigation. If you have moved to all-online access (no monthly hard-copy statement), make sure you are thorough in reviewing transactions on a regular basis.
     
  2. Use credit cards instead of debit cards. If someone has hacked into your world, a credit card offers a grace period in which you can review your statement before payment is due. However, if someone hacks into the debit card, the burden falls more on your shoulders. If you have payments auto-drafting from your bank account, this can easily send you into a cascading problem of overdrafts. If this happens, it is difficult to fix.
     
  3. Monitor credit reports closely. Not only can these reports have errors that can hinder your ability to get credit, but it's a good habit to be in to see what accounts have been opened in your name. This service is available for free on an annual basis by going to: www.annualcreditreport.com/index.action.
     
  4. Consider a credit freeze. This offers the most serious level of protection. It literally freezes the ability for anyone, including you, to open new credit of any kind in your name or Social Security number. Although it works very well, it can also be a bit of a burden to undo. Allow yourself at least a week to lift a credit freeze once you have submitted the necessary information. This is important to consider if you plan on financing a new car or applying for a mortgage. 

    Note that if you choose to implement a credit freeze, for full protection, you should do this with each of the three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, TransUnion and Experian). You may also be charged a small fee to turn on and turn off a credit freeze (fees are waived for documented victims of identity theft).
    This article has more information on credit freezes versus credit locks.

    It is also important to understand that a credit freeze does not stop someone from accessing an existing credit card and using it. As such, a second reminder to review your credit and debit statements religiously!

     
  5. Change passwords regularly and utilize a password vault such as www.lastpass.com to simplify the maintenance of complex passwords. Also, do not reuse passwords for multiple websites. If you are affected by a data breach at a retailer, credit reporting agency, government agency, etc., determine what accounts are affected and immediately change those passwords.
     
  6. Be careful of where you access Wi-Fi. Public Wi-Fi allows keystrokes to be more easily monitored, allowing information to be stolen. Therefore, reduce vulnerability to password theft by refraining from logging into any websites while using public Wi-Fi.

If you have determined that a fraud has occurred and/or you have been the victim of identity theft:

  1. Put an alert in your credit report and send a copy of the ID theft report (consumer.ftc.gov/articles/pdf-0094-identity-theft-affidavit.pdf) to all the credit reporting companies. Although this may sound like closing the barn door after the horses are out, you want proper documentation that you have reported this and are working with the authorities.
     
  2. Contact the police and Federal Trade Commission. Although cybercrime may not involve a gun and masked robber, it is still a crime. To get needed protection, contact the local police and the FTC to obtain their official reports. These reports must go in your credit files. Not only does this help law enforcement track and catch criminals, but it is necessary for your protection, too.
     
  3. Contact the Social Security fraud hotline (oig.ssa.gov/report-fraud-waste-or-abuse). Depending on the level of severity, you may not only need to prove your innocence but also apply for a new Social Security number.
 
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