Protecting your credit from identity thieves is a must in today’s digital world
A new case of identity theft happens every two seconds in America. Yep, by the time you read that sentence, someone had their identity stolen.
That’s over 15 million people a year that will have their personal information used without their knowing it. Many of those will fall victim to huge debts in their name and could spend years clearing their credit from the theft.
Identity theft isn’t just something that happens to somebody else anymore. There’s a good chance you will be a target very soon.
The best way to guard against identity theft is to protect your credit and other personal information.
That doesn’t mean you have to become a hermit, dropping off ‘the grid’ and living in a shack. It simply means following these easy steps to protect your digital identity.
Shred Your Mail and other Documents
Even in today’s age where everything is online, rummaging through your trash is still one of the most popular ways to steal your identity. All those credit card statements, mortgage notices and utility bills provide a treasure of information for identity thieves.
How easy is it for an identity thief to set up an account in your name…by verifying their address with a stolen utility bill?
Buy a shredder and shred all documents that contain your personal information, especially if you’re throwing them into publicly accessible trash bins. It’s unpleasant to think of someone going through the trash or recycling bin, but this is one strategy identity thieves can use to access your information. Shred junk mail, old credit cards, receipts and any old forms you’ve filled out.
Make sure to do the same with documents that contain your kids’ personal information, too.
Protect Your Credit by Knowing What’s on It
This should be a no-brainer. You have the right to a free copy of your credit report each year from the three credit bureaus…use that right.
Don’t skip this all-important step in keeping your credit safe. If you’ve never checked your credit reports, I recommend getting all three this first time. Head to AnnualCreditReport.com and check your reports for errors or identity theft.
If you’re used to checking your reports once a year, spread out your three reports over the year so that you’re checking a report from one of the bureaus every four months.
Stay on top of it: Put a reminder on a calendar, whether physical or digital, so that you remember to check your reports when it’s time.
Monitor Your Credit Report
Since you can only get one free credit report from the bureaus each year, have an ongoing back-up plan. Make sure you’re monitoring your credit through one of the credit monitoring services in this list.
I use credit monitoring services through TransUnion, which is one of the credit reporting bureaus. They’ve got a trial offer for just $1 that gives you the credit report and score. You’ll also receive alerts when something changes on your report as well as tips on how to increase your score.
Stay on top of it: Each time you receive an alert, reconcile it quickly—don’t wait. If you’re notified that there’s a new hard inquiry on your credit, double check that it’s one you recognize.
Put a Fraud Alert on Your Credit
A fraud alert tells potential lenders and creditors that they have to verify your identification by contacting you before extending a credit line or loan in your name. If someone else attempts to open a credit card with your personal information, a fraud alert should thwart him from doing so.
A fraud alert is really best for people who have already been victims of identity theft or who are going on active military duty. Identity thieves look for easy targets like people that already have known weaknesses in their reports or that might not catch a theft of their identity for months.
Stay on top of it: If you place a fraud alert with one of the credit bureaus, that bureau is required to tell the other two bureaus to put an alert on your file, too. In other words, you only need to place an alert with one bureau.
Keep Your Information Safe
I’ve talked before about only using trusted and secured websites when handing over personal information. The same goes for your credit. If you’re required to enter your social security number to register for a service on the internet, make sure to watch for a few points.
- The form for entering your personal information is secured. Look for the “https” at the beginning of the address or a lock icon in the browser address bar.
- The site is certified by TRUSTe or another trusted company that verifies site security. You can usually find icons at the bottom of a webpage indicating what type of certificates the site has.
- Other people trust the site. Take some time to do a quick online search for reviews and complaints before entering all of your information in a sign-up for, particularly your social security number.
Check out this credit score guide for everything you need to get the financial respect you deserve!
Protecting your credit doesn’t have to be something that takes hours a day or even a week. Most of these ways to stop identity theft can be done once and will protect you in the future. Even checking your credit report doesn’t have to happen more than every few months. The cost of repairing your credit after a theft can reach into the thousands of dollars so stop identity theft before it happens.
About the Author
Joseph Hogue is a financial expert and investment analyst. After serving in the Marine Corps, he started his career investing in real estate before becoming an investment analyst for some of the largest private investors. He's appeared on Bloomberg and on CNBC as an investment expert and has published ten books in personal finance. Now he helps investors reach their financial goals and invest in the stock market with some of the same advice he used when working for the rich.