Identity fraud leaves victims fighting to regain their favorable credit standing. In the past six years alone, an astounding $112 billion has been stolen through identity theft schemes. Recent news coverage may have heightened your concern over this type of fraud, and with major banks and retailers regularly announcing their systems have been compromised, it’s right to feel concerned about the potential misuse of your personal data.
Although today’s electronic payment trends make it difficult to completely eradicate the risk of fraud, there are steps you can take to better protect your personal info.
Your Social Security number and credit card account should only be given to those who need it for a valid professional reason — like when banks extend credit, for example. Many banks and businesses state in their customer messaging that they’ll never request private information over the phone or via email. Be wary of any requests for personal information through means that can be used to falsify your identity.
If you’re required to send sensitive information to another party, such as a loan officer when completing a mortgage application, always confirm receipt. Mailed material like tax returns or credit reports should be sent with this request. The added time and expense is often worth the peace of mind and can help to assure that your personal information didn’t reach the wrong recipient.
Although many banks and credit card companies have effective fraud detection procedures, you should still review the charges on your monthly statements. If you don’t recognize a charge, research the name of the merchant online or call the phone number provided. It’s better to spend a few minutes investigating a purchase that may have slipped your mind than to discover someone was using your card fraudulently. To speed up your identity theft detection skills, work with your bank to implement fraud alerts such as emails or text messages to notify you of suspicious account activity.
Limit your online shopping to verified businesses that guarantee delivery and post (or even respond to) reviews from satisfied customers. If you’re dealing with individual sellers, check for ratings and reviews of their products. For newer or smaller companies, look for ratings issued by the Better Business Bureau (BBB), which rates businesses on an A to F grading system based on a number of factors — customer complaints among them. Using a credit card as opposed to a debit card will also provide enhanced fraud protection and the ability to file a dispute over a purchase directly with the card issuer when a merchant is unresponsive, as stated in the Fair Credit Billing Act.
Never throw any documents with your Social Security number, credit card number or even your name and home address in the trash. While the shift to chip-and-PIN credit cards has limited in-person fraud and the ability to charge items to existing accounts, new account fraud has more than doubled. Papers containing information that may be used to open an account in your name should be shredded, or the personal information should be removed prior to disposal.
Adults aren’t the only ones susceptible to identify theft: Your kids’ personal data can also be used to establish a false identity. According to the Federal Trade Commission, be aware of collection calls or letters in your children’s names, or any denials of service like Social Security payments suggesting you have benefits being paid elsewhere. Be careful of the info you give to daycare services or schools, too. You should safeguard your child’s personal information with the same vigilance you use to protect your own.
If you find out someone is fraudulently using your identity, start by visiting IdentityTheft.gov and developing a plan of action. Report your concerns to the credit bureaus; they may allow you to add a statement to your credit report indicating that you were a victim of identity theft. Close all accounts you believe to be compromised, and report the identity theft to all those you do business with so they can keep an eye out for future sketchy transactions.
The concept of identity fraud may be thrown around a lot, but it’s a serious crime — one that can affect your ability to make credit purchases or obtain a loan. Rather than spend years clearing your record or rebuilding credit, keep your account statements close and investigate any questionable transactions as quickly as possible.