A few months ago, a friend of mine received a voicemail from a local credit union. “Someone is attempting to steal your identity. Please call us as soon as you can.” When I heard about this, it sounded like a scam, and I advised her not to call the number they left. I recommended that if she felt compelled to call, she should look up the number of the credit union and use that listed number instead.
Some time passed and I forgot about the exchange until my friend told me the same credit union left another message similar to the first. I reminded her to call the credit union but not to use the number the caller left.
Sure enough, after a few phone calls, it was confirmed that someone had entered a branch of the credit union with my friend’s information including Social Security number and attempted to open an account and apply for a credit card. They were turned down only because they did not have sufficient identification.
Identity theft is big business and the increase in cases reported is staggering. Criminals are hard at work to find the most vulnerable and they take advantage of every opportunity. Because these criminals are finding more creative ways to access personal information, consumers need to take extra measures to safeguard their information.
Luckily, my friend had identity theft insurance and placed a call to the company as soon as she realized she had been a victim. In addition to keeping an eye on bank and credit card statements for any out-of-the-ordinary activity, it was recommended that a freeze be placed with all credit reporting agencies. Here are the links and phone numbers provided to set up the freezes:
IRS IP PIN – This is to prevent someone from filing a tax return in your name
Placing a freeze on credit reports keeps them from being accessed without your permission. When you set up the freeze, you place a username and password on your accounts. This prevents anyone—including financial institutions opening new accounts or loans—from accessing your credit report without your permission. Even if criminals have all your personal information, they will not be able to open accounts or take out loans in your name.
If or when you have the need to temporarily unfreeze your credit reports, it can easily be done online or over the phone. This small inconvenience may be why some people do not freeze their credit reports, but what only takes a few minutes could prevent a major inconvenience if your identity were stolen.
Identity Theft Insurance
Although identity theft insurance cannot completely prevent your identity from being stolen, the companies can monitor your name and sensitive information, help you restore your identity, if compromised, and cover the costs. They also offer services to help you avoid becoming a victim. In the example of my friend, they were able to do a scan of the “dark web” to see if her name had any activity (it had not). They then gave her quick action steps to prevent further damage.
A few well-known companies for identity theft insurance are LifeLock, IDShield, and Zander (a favorite of Dave Ramsey followers). Before purchasing coverage, check with your property/casualty agent to see if you already have coverage and if so, what it covers.
One of the best ways to protect against identity theft is to be diligent. Here are some quick tips:
- Never share your personal information with anyone who calls you on the phone. Legitimate callers will not ask for personal or account information.
- Look over bank and credit card statements, keeping an eye open for any suspicious activity.
- Protect your Social Security number. Do not write it on checks or anywhere that could be seen by curious eyes.
- Be suspicious of any email asking for your immediate action.
- Use long passwords with small and capital letters, numbers, and symbols. Don’t ever use a word that could be found in the dictionary.
- Be careful what you share online. Criminals can sometimes piece together personal information through public social media posts.
- Shred any documents with personal information rather than throw in the trash.
- Monitor, or better yet, freeze your credit reports.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” – Benjamin Franklin
Just like with most things, a little diligence and a bit of invested time can go a long way toward preventing what could be a very frustrating, time-consuming, and costly experience.