The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports that as many as 9 million Americans have their identities stolen each year. That is an alarming number of victims. Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information, such as your name, Social Security number, or credit card number, to commit fraud. Armed with your personal information, thieves can open new credit card accounts, get a job, rent a house, get medical services, file a fraudulent tax return or take out a loan in your name. Restoring your identity can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars and a lot of time to remedy the damage.
You can minimize the risk by following these tips to safeguard your personal information:
- Monitor Your Bank Statements and Credit Card Activity. The latest National Crime Victimization Survey reveals that among households in which a member experienced some type of identity theft, 64.1% reported that someone used or tried to use their credit card. We encourage you to review your bank and credit card accounts regularly for any mistakes or unfamiliar charges.
- Be Cautious With Your Mail. Shred all financial and billing statements, credit card offers and anything else displaying your personal information before throwing them away. Bring your mail to the post office, rather than putting it in a curbside mailbox. If you are going out of town, call the post office to have them hold your mail or have someone pick it up every day.
- Protect Your Social Security Number. Don’t carry your social security card in your wallet. Treat it as confidential information that should only be shared when absolutely necessary.
- Don’t Use Obvious Passwords. Avoid using easily available information for your passwords such as mother’s maiden name, birth date, or your phone number. Combine letters, numbers and special characters to make strong passwords and memorize them rather than carrying them with you.
In order to detect a possible instance of identity theft, you should monitor your credit report annually. The law requires the major nationwide consumer reporting companies – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – to give you a free copy of your report every 12 months.
If you suspect your identity has been stolen, you should file a police report, notify creditors, and contact all companies that opened fraudulent accounts. The FTC offers more information on the steps you should take if you experience identity theft.
Protect your personal information and share these tips with your family and friends! Check back for more updates on this topic.