Identity theft isn’t just an unauthorized charge on a credit card. Identity theft, according to the Federal Trade Commission, “occurs when someone uses your personally identifying information, like your name, Social Security number or credit card number, without your permission, to commit fraud or other crimes.”
Although financial institutions, health care companies and other businesses have taken steps to improve security measures, you cannot rely on them to protect you. Taking steps now can prevent you from a major headache later.
PREVENTION – Be sure to always review your monthly statements from your checking or other financial accounts. The earlier that you catch an error, the easier it will be to resolve it. Also, balancing your check book will help you see where your money is going and will help you spot any unauthorized charges or withdrawals.
Order copies of and review your credit reports. There are three credit agencies that are required by law to provide you with one free credit report a year – TransUnion, Equifax and Experian.
Be sure to shred any documents with personal information such as old bank statements, applications for new credit cards and other documentation with your personal information.
Secure your personal information online and offline. Do not carry your Social Security card in your wallet. Keep it at home in a safe place with other important documents. Be careful with online passwords. You should change them every so often. Be vigilant about sharing personal information when opening new accounts online.
TAKE ACTION – Steps for taking action against identity theft can vary depending on the type of identity theft that has occurred. For example, if you notice an unauthorized charge on your monthly statement, first call the company to report it. By federal law, credit card companies have strong consumer protections in place and large departments to investigate fraud. Because of this, you may want to use a credit card for online purchases. This will provide you with more protection than using your debit card because the money comes directly from your bank account when you use your debit card.
Once you have determined that fraud has taken place, you should file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission as well as an identity theft report with your local police department. It’s important to file these complaints if you see any new accounts on your credit reports that you did not open yourself.
After these reports have been filed, make copies of them and save the originals in a safe place. When identity theft is hard to prosecute, these documents will help with the investigation of your case.
Taking steps to prevent identity theft ahead of time and being vigilant about keeping your personal information safe and secure will save you from tremendous headaches later on.