Identity theft is a serious problem affecting more people every day. Identity thieves steal your personal information to commit fraud or other crimes. They can damage your credit status and cost you time and money restoring your good name.
Unfortunately, it’s not possible to prevent identity theft and credit fraud entirely. However, by managing your personal information carefully, and with a full understanding of its importance, you can substantially reduce the likelihood that it will happen to you.
Preventing identity theft starts with managing your personal information carefully and sensibly. We recommend a few simple precautions to keep your personal information safe.
- Your first step should be to review monthly statements from your checking and other financial accounts. The earlier you catch an error, the easier it is to resolve it. Yes, balancing your checkbook may seem a monotonous chore, but understanding where your money goes will help you spot any irregular withdrawals or charges.
Reviewing your credit card bill each month is critical as well, especially if you charge a lot of your daily purchases. If you have not already, this may be a great time to sign up for online accounts. It’s easier and faster to review accounts online, on a computer you trust.
- Next, review your credit reports. The three credit agencies, TransUnion, Equifax and Experian, are each required by law to provide you one free credit report a year. Stagger your requests, and you can monitor your credit history every four months. While you are at it, make sure your name, address and other information are correct. If you find old or inaccurate information, have it removed by that particular credit reporting agency
- While companies like your health care provider are no longer printing Social Security numbers on member identification cards, a lot of personal information is still out there. Be sure to shred old bank statements, applications for new credit cards and other documents that have personal information.
- If you use the internet, secure your personal information both online and offline. Be careful about online passwords as well and change them often. Be vigilant about sharing personal information when opening new accounts online. If online advertisements or offers seem too good to be true, they probably are.
The steps you will need to take to help recover from identity theft depend on the type of fraudcrime you believe has occurred. If you are going through your monthly statements and see an error on an existing credit card, monthly bill or financial account, first call the company (financial institution, Credit Card Company, etc.) for their assistance and to report it.
Once you have determined that a fraud or other crime has occurred, you should also file both a complaint your financial institution and an identity theft report with your local police department. You should also file these complaints if you see any new accounts on your credit reports that you did not personally open.
By federal law, credit card companies have strong consumer protections in place, and they have large departments to investigate fraud. Lastly try not carry your Social Security card in your wallet. Keep it at home with your other important documents.
How to Report Identity Theft
Your wallet contains some of your most important personal items, your hard-earned money to credit cards and driver’s license. For an identity thief, your wallet offers a treasure trove of personal information. If you suspect or become a victim of identity theft, follow these steps:
- Report it to your financial institution. Call the phone number on your account statement or on the back of your credit or debit card.
- Report the fraud to your local police immediately. Keep a copy of the police report, which will make it easier to prove your case to creditors and retailers.
- Contact the credit-reporting bureaus and ask them to flag your account with a fraud alert, which asks merchants not to grant new credit without your approval.
Seniors and ID Theft
Seniors are very vulnerable to identity theft. Here are some common schemes that ID thieves use to steal the identity of seniors.
- Telemarketing. An ID thief may call, making fraudulent offers for products, benefits or medical services. The caller will require you to provide personal information, such as your social security number, birthday, or Medicare ID number.
- Tax ID theft. Phony tax preparers steal your social security number and sell it to scammers. ID thieves may also read obituaries so that they can file a tax return in the deceased person’s name. This can be a problem for a surviving spouse, when he or she tries to file taxes later in the tax season.
- Medical ID theft. In general, seniors have more contact with medical service providers that can take advantage of access to their insurance information to get medical services in your name or to issue fraudulent billing to you and your health insurer.