According to the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) Identity Theft has been the number one complaint at the Federal Trade Commission for the past 12 years, and it’s on the rise. Don’t be a victim! Follow the steps below to protect your identity:
- 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. Order all three reports at once, or order one report every four months. To order, go to www.annualcreditreport.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.
- Keep your social security, blank checks, credit cards, and any other financial documents locked up.
Unfortunately, it is a common occurence that the person who has stolen your identity is a close friend or relative.
- Don’t carry your social security card in your purse or wallet.
- Don’t respond to email, text, and phone messages that ask for personal information.
Legitimate companies don’t ask for information this way!
- 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.
- If you use a public wireless network, don’t send information to any website that isn’t fully encrypted.
- Use anti-virus and anti-spyware software, and a firewall on your computer.
- Set your computer’s operating system, web browser, and security system to update automatically.
Suspect you may have been a victim? Make sure to do the following:
- Flag your credit reports, or better yet, freeze them. Many states allow you to freeze your credit report for free if you are the victim of identity theft. This means that no one will have access to your credit report unless you choose to temporarily lift the freeze. Some states will allow you to do this for a small fee if you are not a victim of identity theft. You can find more information about these laws in your particular state by clicking here: http://www.consumersunion.org/campaigns/learn_more/003484indiv.html
- To flag your credit report with a fraud alert call one of the 3 credit bureaus listed below. An initial fraud alert lasts 90 days.
- Order your credit reports from www.annuacreditreport.com. Look over your reports for accounts you don’t recognize, especially collection accounts. Oftentimes a fraudulent account doesn’t show up until it’s gone into collections – especially for bad checks, cell phones, and other utilities.
- 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/complaint or 1-877-438-4338; TTY: 1-866-653-4261. Your completed complaint is called an FTC Affidavit.
- Take your FTC Affidavit to your local police, or to the police where the theft occurred, and file a police report. Get a copy of the police report.
The two documents comprise an Identity Theft Report.
If your social security number has been used by someone else, or has been stolen, notify the social security administration immediately. Either use the website, www.ssa.gov/pubs/idtheft.htm or call 1-800-772-1213.
Still feeling lost and unsure what to do? Call LSS Financial Counseling today at 1-888-577-2227 or visit our website at www.ConquerYourDebt.org. Our counselors can help you make a plan to recover your identity and get on with life. We offer services in-person, over the phone or online.
Author Shannon Doyle is a Certifed Consumer Credit Counselor at LSS Financial Counseling. Subscribe to Sense and Centsibility to get notification by email when a new blog topic has been posted by Shannon or one of our other amazing experts.