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We’ve got a crisis going on, and it affects your money.
It’s identity theft, and it’s hitting up 30 people every minute of every day in the United States.
More than 15.7 million people a year that have their identity stolen.
Those are staggering numbers.
Identity thieves try to access your personal information to steal money from your accounts, open new credit cards, apply for loans and commit other crimes — all using your identity.
Protecting Yourself Against Identity Theft
1. Don’t Fall Victim to Scammers
One of the best ways to protect yourself is to keep up to date on new ways identity theft is being committed. Scammers use phone calls and phishing emails to scare people into revealing personal information. Learn about these scams to avoid the traps.
Pay close attention to unexpected requests for account information. Recently I received an email about owing money on my EzPass. All I needed to do was to click a link to explain the issue and pay the outstanding invoice. I knew that it was a scam.
Never give out your personal information over the phone unless you initiated the call and knew who you called. Don’t call numbers in emails or correspondences just because it’s listed. Take the time to go to the website and call the number on the site. These phone numbers are bogus and go directly to the scammer.
Never respond to emails saying you’ve won a contest or asking your help with a business proposition, or with links that ask you to complete personal information about online accounts.
Refuse to give out your personal information to anyone who calls you asking you to divulge personal information like account and Social Security numbers unless you initiated the contact and knew with whom you’re dealing. Only give out information on a “need to know” basis.
3. Take Steps To Secure Information
Consider getting a secure mailbox to ensure only you have access to your mail.
Make sure you shred all bank statements, credit card offers and anything else that contains personal and sensitive information before you recycle it.
Consider getting all your bank statements and credit card statements electronically, directly through your bank’s bill paying website.
If you have people in your home who come to care for an elderly parent or your children, make sure personal information is kept out of reach, preferably in a locked filing cabinet.
Related: How To Love Your Money: Using Credit Cards
4. Check and Check Again
Check your bank and credit card statements often. Check your credit report at least twice a year. As soon as you discover fraudulent charges, the less damage can be done. Take these following measures to ensure your security:
- Sign up for the “Do Not Call” list to stop getting telemarketing calls. You can register by calling 1-888-382-1222 or visiting www.ftc.gov/donotcall.
- Remove your name from mailing lists to reduce solicitations by visiting www.dmachoice.org
- Keep all personal files locked up
- Don’t carry your social security card in your wallet or purse
- Inquire about identity theft insurance at your financial institution
- Check your credit report often for mistakes or fraudulent charges
Related: The Importance of Checking Your Credit Score
5. Be Aware of Suspicious Signs
If your personal information has been stolen or your identity has been compromised in some way, the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) recommends you watch for the following signs:
- Bills and/or other mail may not come on time, which could indicate someone has taken over your account and changed the address to cover tracks.
- You receive credit card or other offers you didn’t apply for.
- You’re denied credit or are offered less favorable credit terms, like an unexpectedly high-interest rate, for no clear reason.
- You receive calls or letters from debt collectors or businesses about merchandise or services you didn’t
For more on identity theft protection and what to do if you think you’re a victim, visit the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov.
7. Keep Your Social Security Number Safe
The Social Security Administration can’t fix your credit report if someone misused your Social Security Number. It is your responsibility to resolve any problems by contacting the institutions that unknowingly opened the fraudulent accounts. You also need to contact one of three credit reporting agencies. You can find that information in the Love Your Money: Using Credit Cards post.
Identity theft is no laughing matter, especially if it happens to you. It can ruin your credit for years and take an enormous amount of time to clear up the issues.
Use these resources and suggestions to ensure your protecting yourself against identity theft and ensure your identity stays tied to you and only you!