Every year, millions of people become the victims of identity theft, and repairing the damage is costly in terms of time, money and peace of mind. The best way to avoid being a victim is to be aware of the dangers and proactive about protecting your identity and finances.
Ways to protect yourself
Taking these steps is a great place to start.
- Review your credit report every year. All Americans are eligible for a free credit report once a year from each of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Order yours online at AnnualCreditReport.com or by calling 877-322-8228.
- Never leave a purse or wallet in the car. Also, keep your wallet or purse in a safe place at work, such as a locked drawer.
- Don't carry more credit cards than you absolutely need. Keep cards you rarely use locked up in a safe place at home.
- Don't carry your Social Security number or birth certificate with you. Keep these documents in a safe place until you actually need them.
- Guard your mail from theft. Put outgoing mail, such as credit card payments, in a post office collection box.
- Be careful about giving personal information over the phone. Even when callers claim to represent a legitimate financial institution, ask if you can call them back to make sure they are who they say they are. Don't take a number from the caller. Instead, look up and call the number of the financial institution the caller claims to represent.
- Protect your personal information on the Internet. Shop only on sites that use secure technology to prevent unauthorized parties from seeing your purchase information.
- Properly store or dispose of canceled checks, bank or credit card statements, and other documents with your personal information. Shred them or rip them up if you're throwing them out. Store them in a safe place if you're keeping them.
- Make sure that your credit card, bank and phone accounts are protected by passwords that can't be guessed easily. Avoid using information that is easily available, such as your date of birth, phone number or your mother's maiden name.
- Keep a list of account and contact information for all of your credit cards, bank accounts and investment accounts in a secure place. This will allow you to contact creditors or financial institutions quickly in the case of fraud.
Signs of identity theft
According to the Federal Trade Commission, the following items are "red flags" that you may be a victim of identity theft:
- Mistakes on your bank, credit card or other account statements
- Mistakes on the explanation of medical benefits from your health plan
- Bills and account statements not arriving on time
- Bills or collection notices for products or services you never received
- Calls from debt collectors about debts that don't belong to you
- Notices from the IRS that someone used your Social Security number
- Mail, email or calls about accounts or jobs in your minor child's name
- Collection notices on your credit report that are unwarranted
- Checks being turned down by businesses
- Job or loan rejections, which seem unexpected
For more information on preventing identity theft, visit Military OneSource or contact your installation Personal Financial Management Program.