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!