Just the simple act of living a normal life puts you at risk for identity theft. Everywhere you go, you carry personal information with you and leave little bits and pieces of that personal information behind in credit applications, in insurance records, in doctor’s offices, in your trash, in your mailbox, even in the check you wrote to buy groceries yesterday. Eternal vigilance for your credit report is critical. Check your credit reports often! Once per year may not be enough.
A growing number of Americans have had their personal information stolen and used to open fraudulent bank, credit card or utility accounts or used to commit other types of financial crimes. Today, there are online auctions for your identity so it pays to be wary at all times. One type of identity theft crime that amazed me was using your personal information to obtain health care!
Most victims of identity theft normally do not know they have been a victim until:
- They are contacted by a credit card company seeking payment. This happened to ME!
- They find that ID thieves have opened a bank account in their name and wrote bad checks.
- They are contacted by a collection agency for past due accounts they never had.
- They receive credit cards but don’t remember applying for them.
- They are charged an exorbitant rate on a major purchase.
- Charges show up on a credit card bill for purchases they never made.
- They notice strange charges or withdrawals, even small ones, on their bank accounts.
- They are denied credit but have never been late on an account.
- They receive a bill for a medical procedure they never received.
- They find that there is a warrant for their arrest (ID thieves may have given police YOUR information when THEY were arrested. When YOU don’t show up for court, YOU get a warrant issued for YOUR arrest).
- They don’t get their bills or other mail, which may indicate an address change by an identity thief.
- They receive a bill for cell phone services that doesn’t belong to them.
- A creditor attempts to repossess a car they didn’t know they owned.
- They are contacted by the police after a crime is committed in their name.
- Their Social Security check may not arrive on time.
Although any of these items could be a result of simple human error, you shouldn’t assume that there has been a mistake and do nothing. Always follow up with the business or institution in question to find out how the error occurred. How it occurred may indicate what happened!
If you find that you’re a victim of ID theft, ACT immediately! Report the crime to the police. Call your bank and credit card issuers. Contact the fraud units of the three credit reporting companies. Request that a “fraud alert” be placed in your file, as well as a victim’s statement asking that creditors call you before opening any new accounts or changing your existing accounts. You might also consider using a credit freeze to thwart those thieves.
- Don’t give out personal information unless you know the person or it is absolutely necessary and never give it out unless YOU generated the contact.
- Protect your snail mail. Shred or safely store all personal information. Put outgoing mail in public mail boxes and place your home mail on hold with the Post Office when you go out of town.
- Secure your credit cards. Minimize the information and number of cards you carry in your wallet (you’ll spend less anyway!). If you lose a card, contact the card company as soon as possible. Also, watch cashiers and waiters when they handle your cards.
- Watch your billing cycles. Contact creditors immediately if your bills do not arrive. Get in the habit of watching your credit calendar. A missing bill could mean an identity thief has taken over your credit card account and changed your billing address.
- Protect personal information in your home. Make sure your personal documents are well-hidden or safely locked away when a worker enters your home. If you’re unable to be there, ask a friend or roommate to come over to keep watch.
- Use common sense with passwords and PINs. Memorize your passwords and personal identification numbers, don’t carry them with you. And don’t use easily available information such as your mother’s maiden name, your birthdate, your anniversary, your pet’s name, or your street address.
Identity theft is real. It is growing. According to the Federal Trade Commission, as many as 9 million Americans have their identities stolen each year. That number is growing, too.
You can survive identity theft. I did. The process is long and arduous but it is survivable! Now I have someone looking out for my identity and I am really, REALLY glad.
[tags]how do I prevent ID theft, how do I stop ID theft, how do I prevent identity theft, how do I stop identity theft, credit monitoring, credit monitor, credit, score, fico, scores, lenders, scoring, fair, history, report, accounts, debt, insurance, isaac, payment, payments, risk[/tags]