The Best Ways to Prevent Identity Theft

The best way to keep an eye out for identity theft is to read your statements from credit card companies, banks and credit unions, and to routinely check your credit reports for suspicious activity.

Credit reports. You know that you need to check your credit report at least once a year! Whether you need to correct errors, make sure you are not the latest victim of identity theft, or keep closer track of your bill-paying habits, your credit report is the key to protecting the financial you.

By federal law you have free annual access to your credit report, and you can attach a “fraud alert” to your credit report as protection against identity thieves who might apply for credit using your name. You can order your report at https://www.annualcreditreport.com.

Review your free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, TransUnion. If an identity thief is opening financial accounts in your name, these accounts may show up on your credit report. Look for inquiries from companies you’ve never contacted, accounts you didn’t open, and wrong amounts on your accounts. Also be sure your personal information – like your social security number, address, name or initials, and employers – are correct.

According to AnnualCreditReport.com, make sure you recognize the accounts and loans on your credit report. Then, check that the information on your credit report is correct: your name, account status (open or closed), history, etc. If you find information that you believe is not correct, contact the company that issued the account or the credit reporting company that issued the report.

For more information read this article published by Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Financial accounts and billing statements. Look closely for charges you did not make. Even a small charge can be a danger sign. Thieves will sometimes make a small debit against your checking account and then, if the small debit goes unnoticed, return to take much more.

Don’t ignore bills from people you don’t know. This is another potential red flag. A bill on a debt you never borrowed may be an indication that someone else has opened an account in your name. Contact the creditor to find out.

Paperwork and old files. Be sure that anything you toss in the trash or recycle bin does not contain any personal or confidential information. A quick way to prevent thieves from stealing your identity this way is to shred all documents or use one of these handy little stamps.

When it comes to identity theft, it’s true: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

Take Steps to Protect Yourself from Credit Fraud

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

The FTC says that the average victim of identity theft is unaware of the problem for 12 months. You don't want to let 12 months go by before finding that you're a victim. Follow these top tips to protect yourself from credit fraud.

  • Reduce the number of cards you carry in your wallet; just one or two are sufficient for everyday use. Keep your others at home. This practice minimizes the amount of information a thief can steal.
  • Make sure you keep as little personal information in your wallet as possible. Don't carry your Social Security card, birth certificate or passport with you on a routine basis.
  • Install a lockable mailbox at your residence to reduce mail theft.
  • Make photocopies of all of your credit cards, including account numbers, expiration dates, and issuer phone numbers, so that you can notify creditors quickly in case of theft or loss.
  • Sign any new cards as soon as you receive them. Don’t give a thief the possibility of putting their John Hancock on your card.
  • If a credit card bill is late, call the card issuer's customer service number immediately. This is one of the first signs that your credit card number has been stolen.
  • Review your statements carefully each month to make sure all charges are accurate.
  • Never leave your purse or wallet unattended at work or in church, restaurants, health fitness clubs, parties, or shopping carts. Never leave your purse or wallet in open view in your car, even when your car is locked.
  • Never give anyone a card number or other personal information over the telephone even if you made the call, unless you can positively verify that the call is legitimate.
  • Memorize your passwords and personal identification numbers (PINs) so you do not have to write them down. Be aware of your surroundings to make sure no one is watching you input your PIN.
  • Buy a shredder. For only $30 you can have the piece of mind that your credit card information will not get in the wrong hands. Shred pre-approved credit card offers, credit card receipts, copies of airline tickets, travel itineraries, and anything else that displays your credit card information before putting them in the trash.
  • Check your credit report at least once a year. Request your free credit report online or by calling 1-877-322-8228. You can also contact any of the following “big three” credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion.
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Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

Stacy Francis is the Founder, CEO and President of Francis Financial, Inc., a Wealth Management and Financial Planning firm. With over 18 years of experience in the financial industry, she is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ (CFP®), a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst™ (CDFA™), and a Certified Estate Planning Specialist (CES™). She is the Co-Director of the Association of Divorce Financial Planners’ (ADFP) Greater New York Metro Chapter and a member of the Women Presidents’ Organization (WPO) and an honoree member of the Private Risk Management Association (PRMA). A nationally recognized financial expert, Stacy has appeared on ABC News, CNBC, CNN, PBS Nightly Business Report, The Today Show, Good Morning America, Fine Living Network, and The O’Reilly Factor. Stacy attended the New York University Center for Finance, Law and Taxation.