Preventing ID Theft is not difficult. Some may have you think that you have to see your credit report on a daily basis to be safe. They appeal to the very paranoid among us with offers of free 24/7 access to your credit report for a nominal monthly fee. Does 24/7 access to your credit report really prevent ID Theft? NO. It does not prevent anything. It does not stop anyone from using your credit card number. It does not stop computer hackers from accessing your PC through the internet. It does not stop anyone from stealing your wallet and using your identity.
Being able to view your credit report on a daily basis only gives you warning AFTER someone has committed an identity crime. By the time an identity thief has built a credit account in your name and it has posted on your credit report, the damage is already done. At that point you need to file a complaint with your credit card issuer and file a fraud hold with the credit reporting agencies.
There are some things that are very difficult or even impossible for you to prevent, such as a hacker accessing your personal data from a third party’s files or if someone placed a debit/credit card skimmer at your favorite gas station or market. Both of these issues have happened to me. I have been hacked and skimmed. In both instances, I found out at least 60 days after the fact. That’s an awful long time for someone to have my data and, luckily, nothing happened. My financial institution took action as soon as they knew about it and cancelled and replaced my Debit Card each time. Not everyone is as lucky as I was.
Some of the best ID Theft prevention can be done right in your own home. Having solid anti virus protection and a good internet firewall solves a myriad of issues. For a lot of people, the firewall that is included in Windows does the job. If you are an “at risk” websurfer, meaning you wander off the regular beaten internet pathways, you might want to have something stronger than the Windows version. There are a lot of good commercial firewalls and anti virus programs available and some can be had for free.
A lot of ID theft happens when someone’s wallet or purse is stolen. Even in a paperless world, there are a lot of important papers and cards in our wallets and purses. How do we protect our cards if our wallet is taken? One simple fix is to take a permanent marker and write, “Ask for ID” in big block letters on the back of all of our credit and debit cards. Not all clerks at check out counters will check identification, but with this on the back of your card, you will see an increase in the number of stores that ask for it.
If you are notified of an ID Theft situation on your cards where your personal info is compromised or suspect it has happened, you can take some actions to prevent further losses. The first thing is to check your credit report for any recent activities that might indicate someone has your information. Go to WWW.AnnualCreditReport.com to access a copy of your credit report from all three credit bureaus. Check each report for suspicious entries. If you don’t see anything but still suspect something may come up in the near future, please contact the three major credit bureaus and place a 90 day Fraud Alert on your account.
- Equifax: WWW.Equifax.com or 800-525-6285;
- Experian: WWW.Experian.com or 888-397-3742;
- Trans union: WWW.Transunion.com or 800-916-8800
Make sure the bureaus have your proper contact data. If anyone tries to use your credit in the next 90 days without your knowledge, you will be contacted by your bureau to verify the credit inquiry. If you did not initiate the inquiry, you can stop it immediately and authorities will be notified of the fraud.
You can also place a “Credit Freeze” on your account. A “Credit Freeze” is another tool the bureaus have to prevent ID Theft. For more detailed info on what a “Credit Freeze” does and how it can be placed in your state, please check this link here from The Consumers’ Union.
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Our next Financial Education Workshops will be taking place in our main office this month.
Sept. 19th 6:30pm – Teen Reality Based Budgets – Help your teenager or young adult learn how to create and manage a personal expense budget. This is a “life after college” simulation. Please contact me to RSVP for the workshop. Gmeyer@meriwest.com or 408-365-6328.
Sept. 26th 6:30pm – Credit Myths and Repair – Learn the top ten myths of credit management, how to access your credit report for free, and how to address information on your reports that is inaccurate, invalid, or out of date. Thousands of South Bay residents have benefitted from this workshop over the past five years. Please contact me to RSVP for the workshop. Gmeyer@meriwest.com or 408-365-6328.