Last year saw a record number of Americans hit with identity theft and, as technology advances, this trend is expected to worsen. Today's criminals are savvier than ever and often these crimes occur without you ever being involved via what's classified as "card-not-present" (CNP). In fact, this form of identity theft increased by 40% last year alone.
Often we think, "this won't happen to me," but I recently had a client that was the unfortunate victim of identity theft and it took her credit card company calling her after several large transactions to even know that it occurred. Here are a few reminders and tips on how to better protect yourself, as well as a checklist in case you happen to find yourself a victim of identity theft.
Tips to protect yourself:
1. This seems obvious but secure personal information and don’t carry things like your social security card in your wallet.
2. Shred any statements, receipts, or documents with personal information before you dispose of them.
3. Use complex passwords to reduce the odds of identity thieves guessing the password.
4. Use a credit monitoring service or a free website like creditkarma.com so that you are notified if there are changes to your credit. This can serve to alert you if an account is opened fraudulently and help you better monitor your credit overall.
5. Order and review your credit report once per year with each agency (Equifax, Transunion, and Experian). The best way is to use AnnualCreditReport.com since this website is the only one that provides the credit reports for free. Hordes of other sites (and the credit report agencies themselves) will try and charge you a fee for this free information.
6. Use credit cards for online purchases since credit cards have additional protections.
Steps to take if you are a victim of identity theft:
1. Notify your financial institutions (credit card companies and banks) right away.
2. Place a fraud alert which will last on your credit report for 90 days. This can be done by going to each credit reporting companies’ website or calling them at:
Equifax: 1-800-525-6285 | Experian: 1-888-397-3742 | TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289
3. Find out if your state allows for a credit freeze. This would make it virtually impossible for any new credit to be opened under your name.
4. Order copies of your credit reports at AnnualCreditReport.com.
5. Report it at IdentyTheft.gov. This will help with trying to resolve any issues with creditors and they also provide a personalized recovery plan.