Identity theft has become just about as common as sunshine. It’s almost impossible to pick up a newspaper or watch a news broadcast without learning about another theft. The most recent was the insurance company Anthem where hackers gained access to the company’s computer system and got the personal information of their current and former members such as their names, birthdays, street addresses, email addresses, medical IDs/social security numbers, and employment information, including even income data.
If you are or were a member of Anthem this is a reason to be very concerning. There’s no telling what those hackers will do with the information they were able to obtain but you know it won’t be anything good. If it turns out that the attackers decide to use your identity this could mess up your financial life for many years to come. For that matter the same thing would be true if you weren’t a member of Anthem but had your identity stolen.
You can prevent your identity from being stolen or at least minimize the chances it will happen by following these tips.
#1: Request a 90-day credit alert
You can contact each of the three credit reporting bureaus – Experian, Equifax and TransUnion — and ask them for a 90-day credit alert. While each of these agencies is supposed to notify the other two, it’s probably better for you to contact all three yourself just to be on the safe side.
#2: Get your free credit reports
The law requires the credit bureaus to provide you with your credit reports free once a year. You could get each individually or all three together on the website www.annualcreditreport.com. Most experts feel it’s better to get your reports one at a time at four-month intervals. That way you’re basically monitoring your credit year round and at no cost.
When you get one of your credit reports be sure to review it very carefully. Doctors can make mistakes and so can credit bureaus. If you do find an error you will need to dispute it. The three credit bureaus have pages on their sites for this purpose. However, the experts say it’s much better to write a letter to the credit bureau disputing the item. When it receives your letter it is required to contact the company that provided the information and ask it to verify it. If the company cannot verify the information or fails to respond within 30 days the credit bureau must remove it from your credit file.
If you’d like to know how to write a letter disputing something on one of your credit reports, here’s a helpful video courtesy of National Debt Relief …
#3: Watch your credit card statements like a hawk
We know that when a credit card statement arrives in the mail the simplest thing is to just pay it and move on. However, you really need to review it very carefully looking for discrepancies or charges you don’t remember having made. What identity thieves often will do is add a bogus charge of less than a dollar to see what happens. If you find a charge such as that or a big charge you don’t remember having made, immediately contact the credit card company. Most credit cards limit your financial liability to $50 and some cases won’t require you to pay anything. But it’s critical that you report any suspicious activity immediately so that the credit card company can protect you from further damage.
#4: Keep copies of everything
If your identity has been stolen or you have any disputes with a credit bureau be sure to keep copies of all correspondence and all reports. It’s a good idea to use certified mail so that you will get delivery receipts and can prove that you actually sent the letter or letters. When you make a phone call, keep notes as to what was said and what you and the credit bureau or credit card issuer agreed to.
#5: Sign up for credit monitoring … if it’s free
The experts say that it’s probably not worth the money to pay for credit monitoring, especially since you can basically do it yourself (see #2). However, when a company has been hacked it may offer its customers free credit monitoring. If so, sign up for it, as it can’t hurt. The monitoring service can tell you if a new account has been opened in your name but can’t prevent this from happening and many of them fail to check for things such as fraudulent applications for government benefits, bogus cell phone accounts or claims for medical benefits. Some do have a trained staff that will work with you and your credit card companies and some offer a limited amount of insurance.
#6: After a data breach
If you belong to Anthem or some other company where there has been a data breach these scammers might try to use your data to trick you into giving them more of your personal information. They will then use this information to open a new credit card or steal money from one of your accounts. If you get an email asking for information and with links don’t click on them. And if you receive a letter saying that you should call a certain phone number, don’t do this. It’s a ploy.
#7: Consider asking for a full freeze
You can always ask the credit bureaus to put a freeze or fraud alert on your credit files. A freeze will keep anyone from checking your credit in order to open a new account, which is how identity thieves often operate. This will give you very good protection against ID theft but you need to weigh this against the bother of having to notify the credit bureaus to lift the freeze, which can be very time-consuming. Alternately, you could ask the bureaus to put a fraud alert on your accounts. Lenders could then access your credit reports only if they first verify your identity.
#8: Don’t respond
If you receive a call asking for any kind of personal information, just hang up. If you receive emails requesting that kind of information delete them. Reputable companies do not request personal information from you either via phone or email. If you receive any of these requests you can just about bet it’s coming from a scammer.
A sad fact
It’s a sad fact that we all live in an era where much of our information such as our names, addresses, phone numbers, places of employment and Social Security numbers are all out there somewhere in electronic form, which means this information can be stolen by identity thieves. This puts the burden on you to monitor your credit and keep an eye on your credit card statements. However, it’s a burden you need to accept – as it’s much better to be safe than sorry.