5 Ways to Protect Your Identity FOR FREE!

July 11th, 2013

5 Ways to Protect Your Identity… FOR FREE!

Last year 12.6 million people were victims of identity theft.  In fact, according to this Javelin Strategy and Research report, every three seconds an unfortunate individual becomes a victim of identity fraud. There is nothing you can do to guarantee that your identity will not be stolen.  But there are measures you can take to protect yourself.  Here are 5 things you can do now without spending a dime.

  1. Check Your Credit Report
    By checking your credit report on a regular basis, you can monitor your identity to make sure that no credit cards, loans, or other debts have been obtained in your name.  You are entitled by law to receive your credit report from each of the three credit reporting bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and Transunion) for free once a year.  The government established www.AnnualCreditReport.com so that you can access all three of these credit reports in one place.  But instead of checking all three at once, you may want to stagger them, checking only one report every 4 months.   This way, every 4 months you're being notified of any activity that's going on in your name.   For more information, read Credit Reports 101.

  2. Add a Fraud Alert
    By adding a fraud alert to your identity, you are requiring that confirmation be made with you, personally, before an application of credit is accepted.  This means that before you or someone else can obtain a credit card or loan in your name, you will be called and asked for authorization.  To sign up for a free alert, you simply fill out this online formA fraud alert only lasts for 90 days, so you may want to set a reminder for yourself to continue to re-instate this alert every 3 months.  On the website, you may read that a fraud alert should be requested if you have reason to suspect that you may become a victim of identity theft.  With the prevalence of identity fraud in our society, it is appropriate to believe that any of us could become a victim at any time. 

  3. Manage Sensitive Information
    Dumpster Diving is still one of the predominant ways that identity thieves obtain sensitive information.  It is critical to shred any sensitive documents containing account numbers, social security numbers or dates of birth.  If you don't have a home shredder, Chattanooga's local Better Business Bureau holds a semi-annual shred event, allowing consumers to bring sensitive documents that they've saved to be disposed of safely and securely.  In order to reduce the number of sensitive documents that you receive by mail, go to www.OptOutPreScreen.comAt this website you can decline to receive pre-screened offers for the next 5 years.  Don't underestimate the need protect your online identity.  Set privacy features to prevent strangers from having access to your social media accounts.  If they can find your mother's maiden name, your high school mascot, or other personal details, then they may be able to reset a password to give them access to your email, bank accounts, etc. 

  4. Scrutinize Your Bank and Credit Card Statements
    Read all statements you receive thoroughly.  If you notice a charge that seems unfamiliar, call the credit card company for more information.  Even if it's only a few dollars, it could be the first of many unauthorized charges to come!  If you catch a discrepancy early on, you may be able to save yourself hours of time trying to recover a stolen identity. 

  5. Practice Safe Spending Habits
    Do not enter any payment information into a website that is unsecured.  A website that includes https:// in its url is secure - that 's' stands for secure.  Generally, you'll also see a padlock symbol next to the web address.  You may also want to consider using your credit card more frequently.  A credit card offers certain protections that a debit card does not.  If an identity thief obtains your debit card information, he has access to the money in your checking account.  However, if your credit card is compromised, an identity thief is stealing money from your credit card company, not you, personally.  If you can control your spending, you may want to use your credit card for online purchases, as well as any purchases made at an outdoor card reader. Identity thieves will sometimes place skimmers on gas stations pumps and ATMs to "read" your payment information.  For more information, click here.

Whether you've been a victim of identity theft, or you simply want to keep it from happening to you, check out the resources offered by the Federal Trade Commission.  And don't hesitate to contact CCCS with questions or concerns!

Sarah Clark Oster joined CCCS as the director of Marketing and Education Outreach in 2011.  For more information on saving money, contact Sarah by calling 423-490-5620 or email her at soster@partnershipfca.com.

Posted by | Topic: Identity Theft

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