Are you really who you say you are? It might surprise you to discover that you're not!
Most transactions of money and information are performed electronically. Although it's quick and convenient, there is also a risk that our information might fall into the wrong hands. If the wrong person gathers enough information about us, we may suddenly find ourselves the victims of identity theft. Unfortunately, identity theft has more far-reaching consequences than simply tarnishing our name; it can cause the financial system to turn on us by saddling us with debt that we did not incur! Here are six easy ways to deter identity theft and ensure that you keep your good name (and credit!) safe from thieves.
1. Check your personal financial information often: Go through your bank statements and credit card bills line by line each and every month. Not all thieves will run up your card to its credit limit. Some will charge small items for several months because we don't always check those $10, $50 or $100 charges on our card. Make sure you can account for every one and investigate anything you don't recognize.
2. Pull your credit reports from all three agencies (Experian, Trans Union and Equifax) on a regular basis and make sure that the credit accounts match up.
3. Don't use security codes, passwords, and PINs that people can guess. Avoid birthdays and anniversaries, the last four digits of your phone number, or consecutive numbers (like 1234). (Bonus tip: Don't use the same password among all of your financial accounts).
4. Change your security codes, passwords, and PINs at least once a year.
5. Develop an "emergency kit" just in case your walled gets stolen or your computer gets hacked. This list should include all of your account numbers as well as a list of phone numbers to call to alert them to the theft. Keep this list handy and constantly updated and as soon as you find out that you're the victim of theft, pick up the phone and call that list!
6. When throwing papers out, shred anything that has your name and address (and other identifiable information on it). Be sure to also shred any credit card offers you get! These are easy targets for identity thieves to pull out of your mail, change the address, but still use your name and credit to get a card.
As our world becomes increasingly interconnected, it becomes easier for hackers and thieves to get at our information. Many Americans are the victims of identity theft every year. Don't be one of them. Be diligent and guard your information closely. Please email me with any credit questions Jeanne.Kelly@TheCreditOwl.com.