You hope that you'll never be a victim of identity theft, but the cold reality is that millions of us are every year. We heard a financial crimes detective say earlier this week that, in his opinion, there is no way to completely protect yourself. Not very encouraging. Should you ever fall victim to ID theft, there are some very specific steps you need to follow.
"The first thing is, you want to document," says Susan Barrett, the Senior Vice-President of the Little Bank. "You want to document everything. You'll want to go ahead and get a police report. You'll want to file an ID theft fraud report."
Keep in mind, depending on the severity of the incident, it could take months, even years to reclaim your good name and credit. And when it comes to your credit, the best thing you can do when something happens is to put a "security freeze" on your credit with all three credit bureaus.
"Put them on notice that you have been a victim of identity theft because they can get blocks on those transactions," says Barrett.
That credit freeze will stop anyone who's trying to gain access to your credit report. It can be a real inconvenience, but it's your best form of defense. You have to enact one with each of the three credit reporting agencies. Any time you apply for a new loan, for a house or car, anything that will trigger a check of your credit, you'll have to contact each credit bureau and have the freeze removed in order to proceed. Again, a pain in the butt, but necessary.
Barrett says, "Notifying the institutions or creditors who have the actual activity that is not valid for you. They are required to work with you to identify who may be responsible and working then with the police."
Now, of course, you don't want to end up in that position in the first place, so let's recap some of things we learned this week about how to protect yourself.
Destroy documents you don't need. Shred old bank statements, insurance forms, credit applications etc.. Take advantage of local shred-a-thons like the 9 on your side event coming up on Saturday.
Monitor your finances. Limit the number of credit cards you carry. Watch for missing bills and review your monthly statements carefully.
Keep an eye on your credit report. You're entitled to one free credit report each year from all three credit bureaus. Log on to annual credit report dot com or call 877-322-8228.
It sounds like common sense, but don't carry pin numbers in your wallet or purse. And don't share them or passwords, even with close friends or relatives.
And last, but certainly not least, protect your social security number. Don't carry the card with you, ever. Give the number only when absolutely necessary. And when you do, ask why it's needed, who has access to it and how it will be kept confidential.
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