Sarah was devastated after being declined for her “perfect” job. The reason cited: bad credit. In an ironic twist, the thief who had stolen her identity was using Sarah’s good credit to obtain cards, buy a new home, and live the good life.
The U.S. Department of Justice indicates that 16.6 million Americans fell victim to identity theft in 2012, and recent data breaches of Home Depot, the iCloud, and other major retailers suggest that number is on the rise.
So how can you keep control of your money and identity? It takes some fairly serious protection to ward off clever criminals. The following tips are a good primer to creating a more powerful identity theft prevention plan:
- Keep Social Security cards, birth certificates, and passports secure at home or on an online document storage site. Avoid carrying them with you whenever you can.
- Create passwords for all mobile devices.
- Remember: avoid common passwords like your year of birth or 1234
- Install remote wipe applications for all mobile devices in case of property theft.
- Disable the location feature on your cellphone camera.
- Use random, convoluted passwords, and store them in an online vault.
- Use a cross-cutting shredder to dispose of documents with personal information.
- Check your free annual credit report.
- There’s only 1 authorized website where you can request free reports: AnnualCreditReport.com. If you’re 18 or over, the federal government requires each credit reporting agency – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion – to provide consumers with 1 free credit report every 12 months upon request. Requesting a report from a different agency every 4 months may catch suspicious activity sooner. Verify that you opened every credit card and bank account on the report. If there are discrepancies, immediately notify the agency that provided the report.
- Check your Social Security statement.
- Any citizen 18 or over may create an account on the Social Security Administration website to access her social security statement. Verify all information on the statement, but pay attention to the earnings. A discrepancy in your earnings may be an indication someone is using your Social Security number. Contact the Social Security Administration immediately if you notice a problem.
- Check your child’s credit report.
- Recent studies show children may be 35 times more likely to become victims of identity theft than adults since many parents don’t check minors’ credit reports. Legal guardians may request a child’s credit information, though it requires a lot of documentation. A new option is the free ChildScan offered by AllClear Id, who has partnered with TransUnion to create software that searches for suspicious uses of your child’s Social Security number and notifies you of any problems. Generally, it’s advisable to check your child’s credit report once a year, but checking at least every few years before your child turns 18 allows time to repair potential damage before your child begins to apply for colleges, loans, bank accounts, and jobs.
- Victims of identity theft should immediately file an Identity Theft Report and send a fraud alert to the credit reporting agencies.
Regaining your identity is possible, but not without time, legal entanglement, and anxiety. Clearly, an ounce of identity theft protection is worth more than a pound of cure.
Deborah Stavis is a member of the DailyWorth Connect program. Read more about the program here.
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