Have you been exposed to identity theft?
A recent study by Javelin Strategy & Research revealed that the number of identity fraud victims increased by 8% in 2017, rising to 16.7 million U.S. consumers. This is a record high since Javelin Strategy & Research began tracking identity fraud in 2003.
Identity theft can happen in unexpected ways. Your account info many have landed in the wrong hands, someone else may have filed a federal tax return under your name, or your personal information may have been stolen in a data breach.
Below are 6 ways to help you prevent the occurrence and impacts of identity theft.
- Secure your online information
Create strong passwords with multiple characters and take advantage of password management tools such as “Last Pass” to secure accounts.In addition to a strong password, whenever possible secure your login information by turning on two-factor authentication. Two-factor authentication means another action must be taken beyond providing a user name and password to access an account. This makes it much more difficult for someone to hack your account.
Another important step is to secure your devices. This includes using a screen lock, avoiding public Wi-Fi (or when you do, use a VPN), encrypting data and installing anti-malware.
- Add account security alerts whenever possible
Take advantage of the option to receive notifications of any suspicious account activity for your online accounts. These notifications are typically received through email or text message so you can respond immediately if necessary.
If you believe your data has been compromised, a 90-day security alert with TransUnion warns lenders that you may have been a fraud victim. Lenders will know to contact you directly before any new loan or credit is established in your name. When you set up the security alert with TransUnion, they will notify the other 2 major credit bureaus. The alert lasts for 90 days and you can renew it when it expires.
- Consider placing a security “Freeze” on your credit file
A credit freeze is highly effective against new credit being opened in your name, but it won’t do anything to prevent thieves from fraudulently using your existing lines of credit. If you don’t plan on opening any new accounts in the near future or suspect your data has been compromised, this is an effective approach to make sure no new lines of credit are opened under your name.You’ll need your name, current address, birthdate, and Social Security number to initiate a credit freeze. Depending on where you live, there may be a small fee (generally $10 or less per bureau).
Each bureau, upon processing your freeze request, will send you a letter containing a PIN, which you’ll need when you eventually decide to lift the freeze.
- Equifax: 800-349-9960 or https://www.freeze.equifax.com/Freeze/jsp/SFF_PersonalIDInfo.jsp
- Experian: 888-397-3742 (option 2) or https://www.experian.com/freeze/center.html
- TransUnion: 888-909-8872 or http://www.transunion.com/credit-freeze/place-credit-freeze
Helpful considerations when placing a security freeze on your credit file:
- Adding a security freeze to your credit file may delay, interfere with or prohibit the timely approval of any request or application. This includes: new loans, credit and mortgage, insurance, rental housing, employment, investment, license, utilities, digital signature, internet credit card transactions or other services, including an extension of credit at point of sale.
- A security freeze doesn’t prevent you from opening a new credit account, or otherwise allowing a lender, employer, landlord, etc. to check your credit. You can lift the freeze temporarily, either for a set time or for a particular party (like a landlord or lender). This can take a few days and often comes with a fee, commonly $2-$10 per agency. You must contact each of the three credit bureaus. They will have three business days after receiving your request to lift or remove a security freeze.
- The freeze will have no effect on your credit score and you’ll still be able to access your own credit report if you choose to do so.
- Businesses you already have a relationship with can still access your credit report for account review purposes. Your credit information will still be released to your existing creditors and any debt collectors. Even if a security freeze is on your report, your information may be used for prescreening as provided for by the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act.
- A security freeze is not 100% fail-safe. Creditors can issue credit without pulling a credit report.
- If you choose to temporarily lift or remove the freeze, you will be provided a personal identification number or password to use. Do not lose this PIN or password.
- Review your credit report
Review your credit report from each of the three reporting bureaus listed above to ensure that no fraudulent activity currently exists. A free copy of your credit report is available once a year by visiting annualcreditreport.com or by phone at 877.322.8228.
- Limit the sharing of your credit information
You can opt out of pre-screened offers from credit, insurance and telemarketing organization for five years or permanently by visiting optoutprescreen.com or call 888.567.8688. This limits credit reporting bureaus from sharing your credit file information without your authorization.
- React immediately if you notice suspicious activity
If you suspect your identity has been stolen, act quickly. IdentityTheft.gov has step by step instructions to put a plan in action to reduce the impacts and avoid lifelong consequences.