Keeping Your Identity Safe
- Secure Documents
- Request a Credit Freeze
- Review Statements and Reports
- Respond Carefully
- Stay Safe Online
Preventing identity theft is a concern that should be taken seriously. Individuals who have their identity stolen can lose control of their money or assets and may have irreparable damage done to their credit history. According to the Transunion credit reporting agency, 2.7 million people were victims of identity theft in 2014. Due to sophisticated schemes on the internet, over the phone, and in person, it is easier than ever to fall prey to identity theft. Individuals can be proactive in protecting their identities through following these steps.
Identity theft can happen as easily as a wallet being stolen out of someone’s purse or pocket. Limit the damage that happens through physical theft by leaving important identity documents, such as passports or social security cards, locked in a safe place at home or in the bank. Keep driver’s licenses or state issued ID cards in an inside pocket or other secure place. If a person’s wallet or purse is stolen, they should report the theft immediately to their bank. This will allow the bank to flag any suspicious purchases made under the victim’s name. They can cancel any checks or accounts that the thief may have access to.
Request a Credit Freeze
Individuals who suspect that the security of their identity has been compromised can request credit freezes on their accounts. A freeze will prevent thieves from opening new lines of credit in the victim’s name. The three credit reporting agencies in the United States are Transunion, Experian, and Equifax. Each company needs to be notified individually by a person wishing to place a freeze on their credit.
Review Statements and Reports
An important step in the prevention of identity theft is to regularly check credit and bank statements. These provide individuals with important clues to the safety of their identity. Unknown or unauthorized transactions should be reported immediately. Each of the three credit agencies allow people to check their credit report for free once a year. This self-check does not affect the individual’s credit score. These credit report checks should be spread throughout the year for maximum efficacy. A line-by-line review of the reports will aid in the prevention of identity theft.
Always think carefully before responding to any requests for personal information. Social security numbers, for example, are rarely legitimately requested by anyone outside of the government or a bank and should not be given to unsolicited askers. Email requests for information must be regarded with suspicion as identity thieves may mimic the logo or language of a trusted organization. In general, customers should always call a business asking for their information through an email to verify the legitimacy of the request.
Stay Safe Online
Protecting passwords is a cornerstone to online identity theft prevention. Thieves who gain access to customer accounts and passwords can drain bank accounts and cause other financial mayhem. It is recommended that individuals always select unique passwords for each online account that has access to sensitive information. Password lists and account names should only be written down by hand or on a device that cannot access the internet.
The risk of identity theft is a continual one. It takes vigilant consumers to not only be minimizing the harm of potential identity theft, but to also be preventing identity theft altogether.