Imagine this scenario: someone steals your personal information and pretends to be you.
He goes on a shopping spree buying all sorts of items and spending huge sums of money to visit several different places – all in your name.
Worst still, that person uses your identity to apply for credit, seek medical treatments, shop for gifts online, file taxes, and even throw a wild party for his friends and loved ones.
And then all that costs is billed to your account, because all the spending was done in your name, while you were working hard to live a better life.
This is exactly what happens when someone steals your personal information and use it to do all sort of things – this is mostly known as identity theft.
Millions of people across the world are victims of identity thefts. A sad stats you wouldn’t want to be a part of.
How would you feel if this happens to you and what should you do in such a situation?
How To Know When Your Identity Has Been Stolen
Sadly, you may not be aware that someone is using your personal information to do all sort of things until the bills start to fly in or when you’re arrested for a crime you didn’t commit.
Then you’d begin to wonder when it all happened and how.
Most times, its already too late – the damage has been done and all you can do is fix the situation. Here are some of the most common signs that someone is using your personal information to commit all sorts of crimes:
- You’re getting bills for items you didn’t buy
- Debt collectors show up at your door for accounts you never opened
- Your loan applications are turned down
Everyone is susceptible to identity theft including seniors and even children.
Worst still, when children identities are stolen, it may go unnoticed for several years. The kids and their parents may never know until the kids are grown adults and start applying for loans.
Child thefts often occur when their parents share their personal information with caregivers and doctors, sometimes with schools.
The several different people and offices who have access to such information make them vulnerable.
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Types of Identity Thefts
These are the most common types of identity thefts you should be aware of:
- Social ID Theft: This occurs when an individual obtains your name and photos and use them to create a false account on websites such as dating websites, garage sales websites and on social media etc.
- Tax Identity Theft: This occurs when an individual or even a group uses your Social Security number to deceitfully file tax returns with your state or the IRS.
- Medical Identity Theft: This happens when an individual steals your health insurance member number or Medicare ID to obtain medical services or to send false bills to your health insurer.
However, there are several things you can do to prevent ending up as a victim of identity theft.
You can start by safeguarding your internet connections, make the most of effective security features, and assess your bills regularly and so on.
If your identity is ever stolen, you may end up spending up to 600 hours to clean up the mess.
This includes obtaining relevant reports, and other paperwork to prove the theft and to decipher all the activities the thief has been involved in while using your personal information.
A staggering 600 hours is no small amount of time to recover from a crime you know nothing about.
While it is impossible to protect yourself totally from identity thefts, especially Social ID theft, there are several different steps you can take to limit the risk of having your ID stolen.
How To Limit Identity Theft Risk In 10 Practical Steps
Here are 10 steps you can take:
1. Request For A Fraud Alert
One of the smartest things you can do to limit identity theft risk is to reach out to one of the three major credit bureaus and place a request for a fraud alert.
The alerts informs businesses to take additional measures in verifying your identity whenever there is an activity on your credit.
This alert lasts from about 90 days to seven years. So if anyone ever steals your personal information and tries to use it for whatever reason, businesses will request for extra information to verify such person’s identity.
Inability to provide the requested information will prevent the ID thief from spending or committing a crime in your name.
2. Request For A Credit Report Security Freeze
A security freeze offers more protection than a fraud alert. A freeze requests for a PIN (Personal Identification Number) or a password before granting access to your credit report.
This will prevent anyone with your personal information from obtaining your credit report in order to commit finance-related crimes.
But a security freeze isn’t free except if someone has already stolen your ID.
Learn more methods of stopping unauthorized access to your credit report.
3. Request For A Free Credit Report
Don’t miss the opportunity to request for your free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, FICO and )
But you can play smart and order for this report every four months to monitor your credit throughout the year.
However, you can only have access to just one bureau’s report at a time. As such, if the identity theft activities doesn’t pop up on any of the three reports, then you wouldn’t notice it for a year.
4. Pay To Obtain Your Credit Report
You shouldn’t rely only on the free credit reports by the three major credit bureaus. Rather, you should take your identity theft protection further by buying your credit reports.
You can get the report from Equifax for a very small amount of money or from other authority websites that sells at competitive prices.
Also, you could be eligible for a free credit report once you sign up for the subscription of a credit monitoring service.
You shouldn’t hesitate to terminate the credit monitoring service subscription before the end of the trial period to stop getting charged.
5. Keep An Eye On Your Accounts Online
If your financial institution allows you to have access to your bank accounts over the internet, go ahead and sign up for it.
You should log in to check your account transactions regularly and to ascertain that no unauthorized activities are going on in your account.
One of the easiest ways to keep your login information safe is not to write it down and to never reveal it to anyone.
6. Sign Up For Credit Monitoring
While credit monitoring is costly compared to other methods of limiting the risk of identity theft, it is a practical method that works.
If you decide to compare the cost of obtaining credit monitoring services with the cost of buying your credit report, you’ll easily decipher that purchasing a few credits a year is less expensive.
You should shop around for the best option if you intend to sign up for a credit monitoring service.
7. Don’t Flaunt Your Social Security Number
Your Social Security number is a very useful tool in the hands of an identity thief. So do everything within your power to keep it safe.
Your wallet isn’t the right place to keep your social security card. Never write it down anywhere. If you have to give your number to any customer support representative, look over your shoulder once more and watch your back.
8. Don’t Mail Your Checks To Your home
Identity thieves use stolen checks to obtain personal information about people.
Once they have your routing and checking account number, they can use the information to create new checks and use them to buy whatever they want.
So if you have to order for new checks for whatever reasons, go over to the bank to pick them up directly rather than having them sent via the mail.
9. Opt out From Pre-approved Credit Card Offers
Expectedly, pre-approved credit cards offers carry your personal information. This makes it easy for someone else to use these offers to obtain credit cards in your name.
The way out?
So shred card offers before you trash them or you should opt out to cancel them altogether.
10. Don’t Mail Your Bills
Identity thieves are aware that some people mail their bills and they are always looking for methods to steal checks from mailboxes.
Since many bans now offer online payment option, you should consider paying your bills online right from a very safe place preferably your home or anywhere you consider very safe but not on a public network like an Airport or even a coffee café.