No one expects it to happen to them. You think you’re careful with financial information, so how could someone steal your identity? However, very little information is needed to steal your identity – just your name, Social Security number, and birth date. Armed with that information, thieves can obtain credit cards, get loans, purchase a car, or apply for a job – all in your name.
Where do thieves get this information? Many people have their checks printed with their Social Security number, driver’s license number, and birth date. Stealing your mail often results in something with your Social Security number on it. A call to a credit bureau, posing as a prospective landlord, employer, or lender, often yields information. Computer-literate thieves can obtain information over the Internet.
While you typically won’t have to pay for anything charged by an identity thief, you will have to work to restore your credit and to ensure all fraudulent accounts are closed. That can be time-consuming as well as expensive. If you are a victim of identity theft, inform the three major credit bureaus so a fraud alert can be placed on your account. That way, no new credit will be issued without first contacting you. Also, file a report with the police in case a creditor wants proof of the crime. Make sure to file the Federal Trade Commission’s ID Theft Affidavit, which advises many companies and organizations about the theft.
To help prevent your identity from being stolen, follow these tips:
- Protect your Social Security number.
Only give it out in situations where it is absolutely required, such as on tax forms, employment records, and for banking, stock, and property transactions. Request a personal identification number for phone access to financial information. Don’t print your Social Security number on your checks. Since so much financial information is linked to your Social Security number, ensure that it’s not readily available to individuals who could use it fraudulently.
- Check your credit report annually.
For a minimal fee, the three main credit reporting bureaus will provide a copy of your credit report. Contact Experian at 1-888-397-3742, Equifax at 1-800-685-1111, and Trans Union at 1-800-888-4213. All credit bureaus will provide a free copy if you were denied credit based on their report and request the report within 30 days of denial. Review your reports carefully for errors. It is not uncommon to find information on people with similar names or other family members in your credit file. If you find errors, report them immediately in writing. The credit bureau must then investigate the items and resolve those that can’t be verified. If the matter is not resolved to your satisfaction, you can submit a “statement of dispute” explaining your position, which must be included in your report.
- Shred important financial records.
When discarding old tax returns, bank statements, brokerage statements, and other financial documents, be sure to shred the documents.
- Remove yourself from mailing lists.
Pre-approved credit card offers are an easy way for thieves to obtain credit cards in your name quickly. Credit bureaus frequently sell lists to companies making these offers. You can call the credit agencies and request your name be removed from these lists.