AL.com recently reported on the arrest of a two-man Detroit theft ring who were in possession of 177 stolen identities. Identity theft continues to be a growing multi-billion-dollar problem. I feel like the wildebeest crossing the crocodile infested Mara River. I’m only protected by the law of large numbers. What are your best moves to protect yourself from identity theft? First, understand that attacks come from primarily two fronts:
Unauthorized charges against your existing bank or credit accounts. I’ve personally had my credit card stolen on a Saturday night and by the time I discovered it on Sunday, there were over $1,000 of unauthorized charges. I’ve also had my information used to make internet charges for several thousand dollars. In both cases the credit card company did not hold me responsible. Your best defense is to closely monitor all of your banking and credit card accounts. For my credit cards I set up text alerts anytime a charge of over $25 is made. For bank accounts I log in every couple of days and scan recent activity. Easy, quick, effective.
Tip: Fraudulent credit card charges are typically easy to handle with little or no losses to you. Debit cards are an entirely different story. If a thief uses your debit card information to purchase something or access your ATM, that money is gone from your checking account and won’t be restored until your bank goes through an investigative process. This can take weeks and you’ll be out the money until it’s resolved. If you have and use a debit card, guard it and your information very closely and I recommend monitoring your account activity on a daily basis. If there is a problem, you’ll want to catch it early.
Use your information to open new credit in your name. While this has never happened to me, it can be devastating to your personal finances. If this happens the burden shifts to you to prove you didn’t open the account. Your first line of defense should be to order your credit reports from each of Experian.com, Transunion.com and Equifax.com. Look for any unfamiliar accounts. These reports are free once every twelve months so a good idea is to order from one of the services every four months. You may also want to consider hiring a monitoring service which will alert you immediately if new credit is requested in your name. Each of these credit bureaus offer a monitoring service as do independent companies such as LifeLock.com. Fees range from around $15 to $30 per month. For quick access to your free annual credit reports, visit AnnualCreditReport.com.
Tip: If someone has stolen your credit information or you suspect you are vulnerable to theft, you can place a fraud alert or credit freeze on your account. Fraud alerts are good for ninety days and then are automatically removed unless you re-establish them. This alerts any company seeking your credit file that you may be a victim of fraud and they should take extra precautions to verify that new or additional credit requests are valid. A credit freeze is designed to prevent your credit file from being released without your expressed permission. Credit freezes are ‘good until cancelled’ and you have the option to ‘temporarily’ remove the freeze if, for example, you are applying for a loan or additional credit. If you have been a victim of credit fraud, there is generally no charge for these services; otherwise a small charge may apply.
For more tips on avoiding identity theft visit www.usa.gov/identity-theft.