Courtesy of Nerd Wallet, this week we have a fantastic guest blog to share with you:
How to Avoid Identity Theft
Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in America, according to TransUnion. In fact, approximately 19 people are victimized by this crime every minute. No one wants to be the victim of identity theft, but unfortunately it can happen to anyone. While there’s no sure way to avoid identity theft, there are many steps you can take to decrease the chances of becoming a victim.
Leave Unnecessary Documents at Home
If you frequently carry your social security card, passport, birth certificate and multiple credit cards with you when leaving the house, you’re unknowingly putting yourself at risk for identity theft. If these documents are lost or stolen, criminals have everything they need to pretend to be you.
Shred Important Documents
While you may think you’re clearing clutter by throwing away old checks, receipts, bank statements, credit card offers and other sensitive information, if you’re not shredding them first, you’re asking for a security breach. Criminals have been known to go through the trash of innocent victims to steal personal data.
Create Secure Pins and Passwords
Passwords centered on your birthday, anniversary or other easy-to-remember numbers and phrases seem like logical choices ─ not just to you, but also to someone trying to steal your identity. Never choose a password that can be easily guessed. Instead, opt for a random mix of letters and numbers that can’t be hacked into.
Set Privacy Settings on Social Media
Not only does having a public profile on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter allow the world access to your private life, it also provides criminals with a front seat to your sensitive personal data. Details like your hometown, place of birth, favorite movie and mother’s maiden name are often password reset questions on important accounts, which thieves look for when trying to break in.
Shop Securely Online
Beware of unknown online stores because you really have no way of knowing if they’re legitimate or if they can safely handle your credit card data. Use PayPal or Google Checkout to pay for purchases on these sites, if you must, and if those methods aren’t available, shop elsewhere. Regardless of where you’re shopping online, avoid paying with a debit card when at all possible, as this offers direct access to your account.
Taking Action Against a Stolen Identity
If you believe your identity has been stolen, it’s important to report identity theft immediately, before any irreparable damage can be done.
The FTC suggests you immediately notify one of the three major credit reporting companies (TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax) with an initial fraud alert. They will report the alert to the other two agencies and the alert will be placed on your credit report for at least 90 days (you can renew it at that point, if need be). This provides you with the opportunity to obtain a copy of your credit report without charge. It’s important to review this to ensure all the information is correct.
Once fraud has been confirmed, create an Identity Theft Report: file a complaint with the FTC and print a copy of it (Identity Theft Affidavit). Bring the Affidavit with you to file an identity theft report with your local police department. You can then use the Identity Theft Report (with contains the Affidavit and the police report) to correct any fraudulent information on your accounts with credit card companies or other businesses affected by the identity theft.
File subsequent reports if new accounts that you did not open appear on your credit report. Take note of all correspondence regarding the fraudulent charges and save all documents concerning the issue.
Identity theft can cause long-lasting damage to its victims’ lives. Be sure to keep important documents in safe places and if old documents must be discarded, destroy them so no one has a chance to appropriate them. Use strong passwords, set effective privacy settings, and avoid questionable online shopping sites to assure your private information remains secure. If after revising your bank statements you suspect your identity has been stolen, act fast to limit your liabilities.
Damaris Olaechea, NerdWallet