Written by: Davis Barry
In this digital age, when so much banking and shopping is done online, it is more important than ever to safeguard your personal information and protect your identity. Below are some best practices that, at a minimum, every consumer should follow.
1. Routinely check your credit reports, and those of your minor children, throughout the year. The three primary credit rating agencies (Equifax, Experian & Transunion) allow for one free credit report per year. Requesting one of the free credit reports every four months is a systematic way to ensure that credit and/or bank accounts haven’t been unknowingly opened in your name. If they have been, checking your report regularly allows you to catch the fraud early. Free reports can be accessed here: https://www.annualcreditreport.com/index.action
2. Consider placing a fraud alert on your credit if you think you may have been a victim of identity theft. A fraud alert makes creditors aware that you may be the victim of identity theft and requires that they verify your identity before opening any new accounts in your name, but it doesn’t protect your current accounts. A fraud alert is different from a credit freeze, which makes it even harder for someone to open a new account in your name. More information on fraud alerts is available here: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0497-credit-freeze-faqs#difference
3. File your taxes as early as possible. If you have the tax information that you need, it is to your advantage to file as soon as possible before a thief has the chance to file a fraudulent return under your name.
4. Scan your monthly credit card and bank account statements for charges and/or withdrawals that you did not make.
5. Keep important documents such as your original Social Security card and Birth Certificate in a safety deposit box or in a fire proof safe within your home. It is also recommended that you retain electronic copies on the cloud and/or a flash drive (to be stored in a safety deposit box or home safe).
6. Shred all statements, applications or solicitations that contain any personal information.
7. Do not give any personal information to someone calling or emailing you claiming to be from your credit/bank account institution. Be polite and explain to them that you will call back to the main contact phone number listed for the particular institution.
8. Ensure your online passwords are complex. Many financial institutions require this; however, not all of them do. You would be wise to make your passwords as complex as possible no matter the requirements. The more complex the password the easier to forget, so you may want to consider using a password manager, such as those described here: http://lifehacker.com/5529133/five-best-password-managers.