Answers to common questions about identity theft
Simply put, being proactive is about assessing risks and formulating a plan to reduce those risks. It’s the opposite of reactive, which is when you take action after the fact. Think of a security system – many homeowners and businesses don’t even consider getting one until after they’ve been burglarized.
Identity theft is similar. Most people don’t think about it until it’s already happened.
With identity theft costing consumers billions of dollars, more people are becoming proactive and looking at measures to protect themselves before they are hit by the crime. This could be as simple as shredding documents before their disposal or it could be using an organization specializing in identity theft protection.
But what’s right for you?
Do a simple risk assessment and look at what can go wrong and the ways to reduce the risk.
Most identity theft crime is perpetrated by a family member or person you know, so don’t leave personal information around where others can see it or take it.
Shred documents before disposal to make them unusable by an identity thief.
Read about the scams that are happening so that you’re one step ahead of the criminals. Some of the more active scams include phishing and bogus phone callers posing as security or bank officials.
Lock your mailbox so criminals can’t steal credit card offers and other materials.
If you are online, make sure you have up to date antivirus and malware protection. If you use wireless Internet your risk is increased and you should look at more precautions like encryption, especially if you are dealing with money or sensitive information.
Also, look at yourself from the perspective of an identity thief. Would you be a random target or are you a person who might be specifically targeted because of wealth or position?
Parents should take an active interest and help guide their kids’ choices when online and teach them how to make smart decisions. That doesn’t mean locking the computer away or standing over your kid’s shoulder as they surf the web, though.
Parents should be aware of the risks kids face online and it’s probably a good idea to set house rules about what information your children can give out and where they can go online.
Talk to your kids about their Internet experiences and let them know they can tell you if they come across something that worries them. It’s also a good idea to let them know that information on the Internet is not always reliable or current.
Get up to date with some of the more serious risks like identity fraud, Internet bullying, online stalkers, phishing scams and spam. It’ll impress your children if the person setting the rules knows what they’re talking about.
Consider using filters or even surveillance software. Also, make sure that children know about the dangers of P2P file sharing software. Installing this software on your home computer can leave sensitive data exposed.
You can put the computer in an area of the home such as the living room rather than a child’s bedroom. But never micro-manage the situation. If you drive their online activity underground, you won’t have any way to protect them.
Think of yourself as a guardian angel. You’re there to help, not to control or punish.
The fraud departments of the three credit bureaus are available if you want to set up a fraud alert. If you notify one, they should communicate with each other, but this isn’t always the case so it’s best to notify all of them yourself.
A fraud alert means that your name will be removed from all pre-approved credit and insurance offers for two years, but make sure you receive confirmation from the bureaus of this. You will be assigned a case number and all documentation should be kept safe in case you need to refer to specific instances at a later date.
How Long Does A Fraud Alert Last?
An initial fraud alert is effective for only 90 days. You can request an extended fraud alert that will last 7 years, but you will need to submit a copy of a police report showing that you have been the victim of identity theft.
You could discuss your options with companies that specialize in protecting people against identity theft.
People who suspect they are a victim of identity theft need to be proactive when protecting their credit history. It is important to report any obvious cases of identity theft and continue monitoring your credit history after the fact.
If you’re one of the many who are concerned, a good way to protect yourself would be to discuss your needs with a service that specializes in identity theft protection and offers assurances to back up its claims. There are many such organizations that monitor online channels for potential signs of identity theft.
Here are a few good tips:
- Report lost or stolen credit cards immediately and cancel any that are inactive.
- If you applied for a credit card, or if a card expires and a new one doesn’t arrive, immediately notify the provider.
- Make sure you sign your credit card immediately.
- Look for unauthorized charges on your credit card bills.
- Try electronic bills, statements, and checks instead of paper
- Shred personal and financial information before you throw it in the trash
- Keep your personal documentation and your bank and credit card records secure
- Try to limit the information that you carry with you in your wallet or purse.
- Do not disclose your credit card and other personal data online unless the site is secure
- Before you discard your old computer, make sure all information is erased.
- Be aware of anyone who may be watching when you enter passwords or PIN numbers.
- Don’t leave things like birth certificates, bank account and credit card statements or driver’s licenses where they can be seen by anyone entering your house or vehicle.
- Use the need to know principle – if someone doesn’t need to know your information, then don’t give it to them.
- Whenever you dispose of sensitive documents, you should destroy them so they cannot be used to glean information. Use a lock on your mailbox to ensure that only you, or someone you authorize by giving a key, can get access to mail. Junk mail that contains items like pre-approved credit cards pose a significant risk.
- Protect yourself online. If you have up to date antivirus and antispyware programs and a good firewall, you’re in good shape. Also, don’t forget to install all security updates for operating systems and applications. You should be very careful about forwarding your information across the web, especially when using wireless Internet.
- Wireless Internet is another hot spot for identity theft, with very few users of wireless using encryption or other forms of security. Someone new to Wi-Fi may have no idea that people in close proximity can use their connection if it’s not suitably protected.
Take action immediately and report the crime to the fraud departments of Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion.
Placing a fraud alert will flag your credit file and all creditors should contact you in a way you designate before extending credit. Consider using a cell phone number as the contact method or perhaps an email if you regularly check your inbox.
You can place an initial fraud alert for only 90 days. However, you can request that the fraud alert be extended to seven years. You will need to display evidence that someone is attempting to open fraudulent accounts in your name to be granted the seven year fraud alert and you may cancel it at any time you feel secure again.
You’ll be assigned a unique case number which you must use in all correspondence and always use certified mail. Save everything and put it somewhere safe. You may even want to make backup copies (paper or electronic) of everything.
You’re entitled to a free credit report and this can be obtained from the three major credit bureaus. Examine it very carefully and query anything that seems strange.
You may wish to discuss your options with a legal adviser or an organization who specializes in helping victims of identity theft. However, the key is fast action. The sooner you place the fraud alert the better.
P.O. Box 740250, Atlanta, GA 30374- 0241. Report fraud: Call (888) 766-0008 TDD: (800) 255-0056 Web: www.equifax.com
PO Box 9532 Allen TX, 75013 Report fraud: Call (888) EXPERIAN (888-397-3742) Web: www.experian.com