Identity theft is one of today’s fastest growing crimes. It occurs when someone steals your personal information and identification. They may open credit card accounts, apply for loans, rent apartments and purchase phone services – all in your name. In many cases, they request address changes so you never see the bills for their activity. These impersonators spend your money as quickly as possible and then move on. Most victims never know it until they apply for a loan or receive a call from a collection agency. Clearing your name and erasing the effects of identity theft can be a nightmare and take a great deal of time. You can spend months or even years re-establishing your creditworthiness and in some cases the damage is irreversible.
Here are some helpful tips to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft:
- Store personal information in a safe place. Shred financial statements, bank checks, credit card offers, charge receipts and credit applications before discarding them.
- Don't release personal information. Never disclose account numbers, Social Security numbers and credit card numbers over the phone or in an email unless you know the person or organization you're dealing with. If someone requests this type of information, contact the source directly with a number you have on file or on the Internet before releasing any information.
- Guard against mail theft. Deposit outgoing mail into a secure, official U.S. Postal Service collection box. Promptly remove incoming mail after it has been delivered. Hold mail at the post office while you are on vacation. Do not let it collect in your mailbox while you are away.
- Monitor account information and billing statements. Know your billing cycles and review monthly statements for authorized charges or withdrawals. Missing statements could indicate that someone has filed a change of address notice to divert your mail to his or her address. Consider switching to electronic statements that are delivered directly to an eMail address that only you have access to.
Obtain and review copies of your credit report on an annual basis to review your file and make certain the information is accurate. The law allows each person to obtain a free copy of their credit report annually from the three national credit reporting agencies. Go to www.annualcreditreport.com or call 1-877-322-8228