As with any crime, prevention is always your best option. Self-monitoring your credit will enable you to spot any issues and resolve them right away. The Simple Dollar recently looked into identity theft and the best protection services and offers some tips to better protecting yourself from becoming a victim.
Carefully monitoring all three credit reports.
Americans can access these through AnnualCreditReport.
If your wallet is stolen or your bank notifies you of any suspicious activity, request a 90-day alert on your credit activity, requiring businesses to verify your identity before extending credit in your name. At your request, alert status can be renewed indefinitely.
Freeze your credit reports.
If you won’t be opening a new bank account, signing or making any transactions requiring credit inquiry anytime soon, you may wish to freeze your credit reports. Simply call your banks and the credit bureaus and request it. When your reports are frozen, you will be contacted whenever there is an inquiry on your credit. Set aside an afternoon for this time-consuming process and be prepared to pay $10 per freeze or $10 per unfreeze.
Attend to all mail and email.
Examine statements for erroneous charges, such as medical care you did not receive or items you did not purchase. Be on the alert if your utilities, banks, credit card companies or other businesses stop sending email or paper notifications, as identity thieves often change addresses to hide criminal activity from victims. Similarly, if you receive any password-reset emails, someone may be trying to access your accounts.
Check your own background.
Periodically running a background check on yourself will help you find any mistaken charges that you must dispute with the authorities.
Consider identity theft insurance.
Identity theft insurance will cover money spent recovering your identity. Frequently, home and renter’s policies have an add-on option for this coverage and some employers include it as a benefit.
In addition to self-monitoring, there are five main ways you can protect yourself from identity theft.
1. Carefully guard sensitive documents.
Keep your Social Security card, medical ID cards, driver’s license and all financial statements in a secure location at home, if possible.
2. Create strong passwords.
Do not use names or other easy-to-find information for passwords and avoid using “Forget your password?” questions that can be answered using Google, such as your high school mascot. Use a combination of letters, numbers and symbols. If you would like assistance generating strong passwords, use an online password manager to create, strengthen and store your passwords.
3. Avoid mystery links.
Once you click on a mystery link in an email or on a website, you may be granting identity thieves access to your computer and files.
4. Only authenticate yourself to trusted services.
If a business is contacting you, they should already know who you are. You should never give sensitive information, such as the last four digits of your Social Security number, to anyone calling you.
5. Learn your Smart Phone’s security features.
Guard your Smart Phone and the information stored on it. Create a complex PIN number, set automatic shut-off to one minute and use remote data wiping. Remote data wiping allows you to remotely remove all data from a stolen phone. Be sure to frequently save your phone information to the cloud or another remote storage location, so you can wipe without regret. Apple iPhones with the Find My iPhone feature and Google Android phone with the Android Lost feature are able to perform remote data wiping.
Carefully self-monitoring and following the five steps above can help keep your private financial information, your assets and your good credit secure. For further guidance, please consult with your attorney, accountant or other qualified financial security professional.