It is important to protect yourself from identity theft. Once someone becomes a victim, it takes a lot of time and money to undo the damage done by the thief. It is also hard to contain your personal information once it has been stolen. People can be taken in by “phishing” schemes, where a thief claims to be a reputable company, such as your bank, and needs to “verify” your personal information. People are worried over threats of warrants, account closures, or damage to their credit rating if they do not respond to these phone calls, messages, or emails. Thieves use fear to scare their victims to gain their information. It is important to step back and give yourself time to verify the person’s claims.
There are some things people can do to protect themselves:
- Never give or confirm any personal information over the phone to someone who calls you. If you are concerned over their threats, such as claiming to be from your bank or credit card company, tell them you will call them back. Contact the company at a legitimate number (NOT the number the caller gives you) or visit in person to check if there was a genuine issue with your account or information. Thieves will use fear and claim you have a limited amount of time. They don’t want you to have time to learn they are fake.
- Never carry around your social security card in your purse or wallet, unless you need it for a specific purpose. Once you complete that task, put your social security card back in a secure place, such as a lock box.
- Monitor your credit reports for unauthorized activity. Thieves can use your personal information to open credit cards or loans in your name. It is important to review your credit report throughout the year.
- Shred any unnecessary paperwork such as bank statements. You do not need to keep several years’ worth of statements. You can always request previous statements at your bank. Keep important paperwork locked up and out of easy view by visitors to your home. Identity theft can be done by both strangers and people known by the victim that was trusted.
For more information on identity theft and information on what to do if you are a victim, visit the Federal Trade Commission’s website on identity theft at IdentityTheft.gov. You will need to file a police report with your local law enforcement agency.
To check your credit report, visit annualcreditreport.com. By law, you can receive a copy of your credit report once a year from each of the credit reporting bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax). Request one report every four months instead of getting all three reports at the same time once a year. Any companies that require payment or credit card information are not legitimate. Even if you pay for a credit monitoring service, it is still important to protect your personal and financial information and check your credit reports.