With little more than your name, address, date of birth and Social Security number, a thief can do just about anything he wants with your identity. He can run up your credit cards, empty your bank accounts and apply for new credit in your name. While recovering from identity theft can be difficult, time-consuming and expensive, preventing it doesn’t have to be. Following a few easy and free practices can minimize your chances of being a victim.
Watch Your Statements
Your bank and credit card statements are powerful tools that can help you quickly nip identity theft in the bud. Reviewing them every month or checking them online even more frequently gives you a chance to see fraudulent transactions soon after they happen. When you see something that doesn’t look right, contacting your bank or credit card company immediately gives them a chance to investigate it, shut down your account and potentially protect you from further harm.
Often times, credit card companies and banks alert consumers when suspicious activity occurs such as foreign or expensive charges. But while these companies will do their diligence to protect your identity, only you can be responsible for carefully reviewing your statements for accuracy on a regular basis.
Check Your Credit Report
When an identity thief starts opening new accounts and has those statements sent to different addresses, these new accounts and addresses will appear on your credit report. In addition to looking for new accounts that arent familiar, you can also look for unauthorized inquiries or for changes to your personal information that might have come from fraudulent applications. If you think you might be the victim of identity theft, some states allow you to place a freeze on your credit report to stop credit bureaus from releasing credit information to potential lenders. This can help prevent new accounts from being opened without your approval.
Maintain Physical Security
Keeping your information physically safe is also important. This starts with getting your mail every day or switching to online bills so that personal information doesn’t pile up in your mailbox. Keeping as little information in your wallet as possible and never having your Social Security number in it can protect you if it gets lost or stolen. Shredding sensitive information can also protect you from identity thieves who collect the information they need by going through the garbage of others. Finally, when you’re at an ATM or a store’s payment terminal, cover the keypad with your other hand as you enter your PIN to prevent an identity thief from shoulder surfing or using a camera to access your personal information.
Protect Your Data
Your computer, tablet and smart phone can be tools to keep you safer or they can be plentiful resources for identity thieves. Putting passwords and encryption on each device makes it harder for an identity thief to access your information. Also, verifying that a website is secure before entering your financial information can protect you from getting your information intercepted. Another strategy is to avoid clicking on links in email from your financial institutions, because that email might not be legitimate even if it looks real. Instead, use your browser to go directly to their websites.
Remember, reviewing your financial statements and credit reports are not only good ways to make sure youre on track with your personal budget; it can help also help you recognize the signs of identity theft. Early detection is key to recovering quickly in the event you are the victim of identity theft.
About the Author
Solomon Poretsky has been a writer since 1996, with experience in the fields of financial services, real estate and technology. Poretsky holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Columbia University.
This article is provided for general guidance and information. It is not intended as, nor should it be construed to be, legal, financial or other professional advice. Please consult with your attorney or financial advisor to discuss any legal or financial issues involved with credit decisions.
Published by permission from ConsumerInfo.com, Inc., an Experian company. © 2014 ConsumerInfo.com, Inc. All rights reserved.