When the phrase “identity theft” first rose to the prominence many years ago, some found it to be an almost comical idea — how could someone steal your identity? One would have to be very unobservant, the jokes went, to allow someone to make off with your sense of self. In reality, it has nothing to do with anything metaphysical, and everything to do with the basic data that defines who you are to banks, businesses, the government, and many other institutions.
As we know today, identity theft is incredibly disruptive. In 2019, it caused nearly $2 billion in financial losses alone. This crime occurs when a bad actor uses your personal information to open fraudulent accounts, use your credit card information, or otherwise use your identity to steal money and goods by deception. Not only can such a crime devastate your personal credit score, but it could lead to years of headaches. Knowing what you need to do to prevent identity theft is therefore critical. Explore the following tips for ideas on how to stay safer.
1. Be Vigilant — Your Identity is Your Responsibility
The #1 rule to prevent identity theft concerns your behavior. That is, you shouldn’t forget that watching over the sanctity of your identity is your responsibility. While we can lay out all the tools and tips available for you to use, they won’t work in a vacuum. Safeguarding your information, checking up on the appropriate resources, and ultimately protecting your identity all require you to stay involved in the process. Keep that in mind, as we explore other strategies.
2. Routinely Check Your Credit Reports
The simplest way to keep track of unauthorized activity taking place in your name is to look at your credit report. By law, you can request a free copy of your report from each of the three credit reporting bureaus — that gives you the chance to check your report every four months. Look for signs of suspicious activity, such as accounts you did not open or sudden dings to your score. Take action if you spot something out of place.
3. Keep a Close Eye on Your Accounts and Balances
Just as you should closely watch your credit report, you should also keep a close eye on your accounts. What if someone were to steal the number of the credit card you got from Resource One? With the right information, they could go on a spending spree in your name. If you always check your balances, you can inform your bank or credit union of any problems immediately.
4. Place a Fraud Alert if You Have Concerns
A fraud alert is a special flag on your credit report that lets financial institutions know they should take additional steps to verify your identity before opening an account or taking action based on your information. Some choose to keep fraud alerts in place all the time, dealing with any potential delays or inconveniences they may cause. Others may only decide to place an alert when they suspect a high risk of identity theft. Choose your path based on your level of risk, but do take advantage of these tools.
5. Practice Good Digital Safety Measures Online
The Internet is the most popular venue for identity thieves to ply their trade today. There are more opportunities than ever for you to accidentally lose control of personal information that could allow the bad guys to take financial advantage of you. Minimize this risk by using good practices such as strong and unique passwords. Limit the number of websites where you save credit card information. When in public, use a VPN or avoid public Wi-Fi networks that may pose a security risk. In short, keep your info as secret and secure as possible online. You don’t want to open the door to let someone log in to your bank account, after all — that’s like handing a thief the keys to your car.
6. Freeze Your Reports to Prevent Unauthorized Access
If you want to go one step beyond the fraud alert, a freeze is the way to go. You’ll have to ask every credit bureau to initiate a freeze separately, but once you do, no one can request your credit information without your direct permission. This step will stop many would-be identity thieves in their tracks as they will not be able to quickly set up new accounts. However, it will slow down things such as car loan applications, mortgages, and other financial undertakings in your life.
7. Report Lost Cards Right Away
If you lose or misplace a credit or debit card, or suspect it stolen, report it immediately. Your issuing bank will revoke the card and prevent unauthorized purchases. Some may even be able to reverse charges if fraud already occurred.
8. Watch Where You Put Your SSN
It can be easy for the bad guys to get information such as your birthday, address, and more from sources such as junk mail, but your Social Security number is a secret key only you and the government should know. Be very wary when sites ask you to plug in your SSN; make sure the website is actually legitimate before doing so, and when possible, verify your identity in other ways.
Work With Resource One Credit Union To Make Sure You’re Protected
When identity theft does occur, it may leave you feeling as though you’re alone in a battle against the world. Knowing your financial institution has your back with strong anti-fraud measures, and pro-consumer policies offer some peace of mind when you must face down this frustrating threat. At Resource One Credit Union, we work hard to protect our members from the devastating effects of identity theft. From our friendly, accessible customer service to our quick action when you report the loss or misuse of a credit card to Resource One, trust goes a long way toward helping to prevent problems. Keep all these tips in mind, and stay safe out there!