Identity Theft: How to Protect Your Good Name
Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in this country. It occurs when a thief gets access to your personal information, steals your identity and ruins your credit. Its consequences can be overwhelming. Identity thieves can:
- Steal from your bank accounts
- Acquire new credit cards
- Open cell phone accounts
- Obtain auto loans in your name
- File for bankruptcy under your name
- Make medical and insurance claims under your name
- Even use your name when they are arrested!
It takes months before most victims know that their identities have been stolen. That’s when they start getting calls from banks, credit cards and collection agencies demanding payment. At this point, it could take years to get back your good name and credit record.
Identity thieves will hack into bank and credit card records, dumpster dive or simply steal your mail. You don’t have much control over computer hacking, but if you keep a close eye on your financial activities, you’ll detect a theft of your identity sooner and minimize the damage. Here are some tips:
- Don’t give your social security number or other personal information over the phone, by mail, in person, or online unless you understand exactly what it’s for
- Don’t carry your social security card
- Tear up or shred all credit card receipts, credit applications you get in the mail, insurance forms, bank statements, expired credit cards and any other documentation with personal information
- Put outgoing mail only in U.S. Postal Service boxes
- Carry no more than two credit cards
- Activate new cards immediately and sign the back in ink
- Memorize PINs and passwords
- Thoroughly check all financial statements, bills, and records as soon as you get them
- Keep tabs on your credit report with an annual credit review like the one included in your CreditKey Plus! sm subscription.
This last tip is important because when identity thieves open new accounts in your name, these show up fairly soon on your credit report. The good news is, monitoring those reports has become much easier. The recent federal Fair Credit Reporting Act requires each of the three nationwide consumer credit bureaus to provide you with a free copy of your credit report every 12 months. The only authorized site for obtaining these reports is www.annualcreditreport.com.
You’re entitled to one free report from each company, so if you stagger your requests, you’ll get updates every four months. Just make a note on your calendar to get a credit report, for example, from Equifax in January, TransUnion in May and TRW in September.
Incidentally, these reports give your credit history, not your credit score, which you may also like to know if you’re applying for financing. You can get this for a fee, or ask the mortgage professional who sent you this issue of Home & Wealth for help.
Credit bureaus also offer protection programs for a reasonable fee. These can include more frequent access to your credit reports, notifications of any changes, identity theft insurance and even compensation for lost wages if you have to take time off from work to clear up credit matters. But check with your homeowners insurance company first – you already may have some identity theft insurance.
If you think your identity has been stolen, go to www.consumer.gov/idtheft/. This is the Federal Trade Commission’s national resource for dealing with identity theft and they’ll tell you exactly what to do.
Victims of identity theft spend an average of 607 hours and more a year clearing their names. So it makes sense to begin protecting yourself against identity theft immediately. Why not go to that credit report website right now?
One final reminder, as my client I will help to protect you. Every year I will GIVE you a FREE copy of your credit report from all three credit bureaus and it will contain all three of your credit scores. I will review this report with you and provide you with guidance to help you improve your credit and protect your identity. This is just one of the many valuable services included in your CreditKey Plus! sm subscription. Once again, that’s why we say that Professional Mortgage Planning sm is a Better, Smarter, Safer Way!
It’s a good life!
Randall A Luebke RMA, RFC
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