You might be the victim of identity theft if your Social Security number or other personal data is stolen. When the criminal uses your stolen identity it can result in a wide variety of credit and legal problems, so it’s essential you know how to spot — and prevent — identity theft.
Identity theft protection services can monitor your credit report and alert you to suspicious activities on your credit cards and other accounts. You can also take steps to prevent identity theft by using these six tips to reduce your risk of becoming a target and report the identity theft immediately.
1. Monitor Your Accounts
When someone steals your personal information, he can tap into your credit card and bank accounts — and file tax refunds in your name. One of the best ways to protect yourself from excessive damage is to be aware of warning signs that your identity has been compromised. Signs might include getting bills for services you don’t use, having your debit card declined, seeing unauthorized bank transactions on your summary and noticing unfamiliar activity on your credit report.
2. Place a Freeze on Your Credit Report
Several different types of identity theft exist — a common one happens when a thief accesses your credit report and steals your information. If you’re afraid that someone has accessed your credit report, you can initiate a credit freeze with the credit bureaus to limit the number of people who are privy to your information. Call Experian, Equifax and TransUnion, provide your identity information and pay a nominal fee to lock down your credit report and prevent identity fraud.
3. Place a Fraud Alert on Your Credit Report
A fraud alert is different from a credit freeze because it prevents anyone from opening a new account in your name. A fraud alert allows creditors to access your report as long as they take steps to verify your identity.
You can place an initial fraud alert on your account for 90 days or you can extend it for seven years. Active-duty military members can place fraud alerts on their accounts for one year while they’re deployed.
4. Safeguard Financial Documents
Maintaining confidential information records is essential, but make sure you protect them. Store your personal data in a safe place at home and at work and never carry your Social Security number with you.
Install firewalls and virus detection software on your computers to prevent online intrusions. When you’re storing digital data, create complex passwords that include a mix of numbers, symbols and uppercase or lowercase letters.
5. Use a Credit Monitoring Service
If you’re concerned about identity theft or credit card fraud, consider using a credit monitoring company for protection. If anything changes on your credit report, the company sends you an alert — and some services even offer identity theft insurance.
LifeLock, TrustedID and ProtectMyID are among the top-rated identity theft protection services, according to Consumer Affairs. You can also enroll in Equifax’s protection service, Equifax ID Patrol.
6. Turn to Your Credit Card Company
Many credit card companies offer identity theft protection and credit monitoring services. For example, the Capital One CreditWise app is available even to those who are not Capital One customers. The app sends you email alerts if your TransUnion report changes, someone has submitted a credit inquiry or records of delinquent accounts appear. Read the terms and conditions of your cardholder agreement to find out what type of protection against identity theft you have.