Identity Theft can strike virtually anyone at any time. Even folks who pay their bills on time and do not misuse their credit cards are suddenly discovering that they are denied a loan, being sued, or even have a warrant issued for their arrest.
It only takes a few minutes for a criminal to literally turn your financial life upside down while it can take you months to resolve the issues they created and repair your good name.
So what can you do to give yourselves the best chance of not being a victim of identity fraud?
Below are five simple steps that we recommend that you take,
1. Perform A Credit Report Review At Least Annually. You are entitled to a free credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com, which is only government authorized source for the free annual credit report that's yours by law. The Fair Credit Reporting Act guarantees you access to your credit report for free every 12 months from each of the three nationwide credit reporting companies (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion). Beware of other websites, who may give you a so-called free report but attach a monitoring service unless you opt-out.
2. Shred Unwanted Personal Documents. An identity thief might go through your trash and find important personal info like bank statements, receipts, or medical bills. Did you know that even those pre-screened offers for new credit cards can be used by criminals to steal your identity?
3. Immediately report any stolen or lost Credit cards. You should keep a separate file of the contact numbers for all issuers of your credit cards. All of them have toll-free 24 hr numbers so use them immediately! Do not wait! With sophisticated electronic programs it only takes a few minutes to charge a card to its maximum online.
4. Protect Your Social Security Number. Do not keep you social security card in your wallet. Store it in a secure and not easily accessible place in your home. If someone requests you to give them you number on an application, you have a right ask how it will be safeguarded and to see their policy on protecting it. You should also ask if you can provide another number as an alternate. It may seem a little pushy, but it can prevent a lot of headaches later.
5. Use Safe Online Practices. Change your passwords frequently to something easy for you to memorize. Use only strong passwords (those with both numeric and alpha characters and a mixture of upper and lower case). Don't use the same password for every account.
Do not open any emails or attachments from email addresses that you do not know or did not request.
For online purchases, make sure the page where you enter your credit card information is encrypted (i.e. begins with https://). Check for the "s" at the end every time.
Well there you have our suggestions for five simple and easy ways to prevent becoming a stolen identity theft victim. Practice them and your chances of not being surprised are greatly increased.