Identity theft is an unfortunate fact of life in the digital age. You must stay vigilant and take care to protect your personal and financial information from those who wish to misuse it for their benefit. Read on to learn how to spot identity theft and what to do if you think you have been a victim of identity theft.
Signs of Identity Theft
Approximately 10 million Americans annually are victims of identity theft. Here are signs that indicate your identity may have been stolen:
Errors on your bank or credit card statements – Review statements each month to ensure all charges are legitimate.
Errors on your credit report – Look for accounts you didn’t open or inquiries you didn’t initiate.
Collection calls – If you know your accounts are current and you start receiving collection calls, don’t assume it’s a mistake; look into why it’s happening.
Problems with insurance – If you’re denied coverage or you receive bills for a procedure you didn’t undergo, it’s likely someone else is using your insurance information.
Unexpected or missing mail – Bills, statements or collection notices for accounts that aren’t yours indicate a problem. Conversely, not receiving mail you normally expect can mean ID thieves have changed the address on your accounts. Either way, it’s a major red flag.
What to do if it Happens to You
If you think you’ve been the victim of identity theft, or think your personal or financial information has been compromised, here’s what you should do:
First, place a 90-day fraud alert on the credit report with each credit bureau:
- Equifax com 1-800-685-1111
- Experiancom 1-888-397-3742
- TransUnioncom 1-800-916-8800
Then follow these detailed identity theft recovery steps listed on the Federal Trade Commission’s website.
After you have completed the steps, file a police report about the identity theft, and get a copy of the police report or the report number.
Preventing Identity Theft
Keeping your personal and financial information safe and secure is all about being prepared and taking the necessary precautions. Here’s how you can protect yourself from identity theft every step of the way.
Secure Your Mail
- Use locking mailboxes
- Place outgoing mail in a USPS mailbox
- Pick up incoming mail daily
- Be aware of your billing cycles and review all statements for accuracy
- Shred any mail containing account numbers or pre-approved offers
- Minimize pre-approved offers by calling 1-888-567-8688 or visiting optoutprescreen.com
Secure Your Personal Identifying Information
- Do not carry your Social Security card with you
- Avoid providing your full Social Security number unless absolutely necessary
- Shred any documents that contain your Social Security number and other personal information
- Write down all your account numbers and keep them in a safe place
Secure Your Computer
- Use up-to-date anti-virus and anti-spyware programs
- Never respond to “phishing” emails asking for sensitive information or click on a link in the emails. Doing so may download a virus or spyware infecting your computer and possibly tracking the sites you visit and recording your keystrokes.
- Passwords should be 10-12 characters long and use a variety of upper and lowercase letters plus numbers and symbols
- Do not save your passwords on your computer
- Do not use the same password on multiple sites
Seniors can be especially vulnerable to phishing, phone scams, and ID theft. Find out more about seniors and identity theft here.