Imagine getting a telephone call informing you that someone has used your name and Social Security number to apply for a credit card, or receiving a collection notice in the mail for a delinquent account that isn’t yours but is under your name and home address.
Every day, consumers find out someone is illegally using their personal information to make purchases and open new financial accounts such as credit cards and loans.
Undetected, identity fraud can lead to difficulties in applying for a mortgage, loan, new credit card or bank accounts, even if you’ve had great credit for years. The road to recovery may be long and aggravating, especially when you don’t catch fraud immediately.
Last year, 8.1 million adults were the victims of identity fraud, according to a recent Javelin Strategy & Research Identity Fraud Survey.
Here are some tips to help protect yourself from an identity nightmare:
When creating passwords, don’t use information that easily could be linked to you, such as your birth date, Social Security number, phone number or the names of family and pets. Using a mix of numbers, letters, and characters to create your password makes it harder for others to guess.
Change your passwords every 30 days and use unique passwords on each site you access.
Whether you’re providing financial information for a loan or placing an order online, be sure the site you’re using is secure. Look for a URL that begins with “https://” and has a “closed padlock” symbol in the lower right-hand corner of your browser.
Using and regularly updating anti-virus and anti-spyware software on your computer also can help to safeguard your information from identity theft.
Never email personal information such as account numbers or your Social Security number to anyone, not even to yourself.
It’s a smart practice to review credit card and bank statements as soon as they arrive to ensure that all activity on your accounts is accurate.
U.S. consumers are entitled to one free credit report a year from the three main credit bureaus. Regularly reviewing your credit report lets you see if there are any interactions with companies you haven’t contacted or accounts you didn’t open.
If a bill or statement you regularly receive doesn’t arrive as scheduled, follow up with the sender to find out why.
Use a paper shredder to shred any documents with account numbers, your Social Security number or even your address. It will help deter “dumpster diver” identity thieves from obtaining your personal information.
Never carry your Social Security card or number in your wallet or purse. When writing checks, avoid listing your Social Security number, telephone or driver’s license number, if possible.
Another way to help safeguard yourself is to subscribe to a program, such as TD Insurance’s ITAC Sentinel Plus, that offers to help protect you from identity theft by monitoring your accounts and personal information for you and sending you an alert if there is certain activity that could indicate identity theft.
One last tip: If you or anyone you know may have fallen victim to identity theft, contact the three major credit bureaus right away — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Doing so will let them place a fraud alert on your credit reports and help to ensure that no more fraudulent activities take place.
Then, close the accounts that you think have been jeopardized. File a police report and contact the Federal Trade Commission immediately to file a complaint so they can record the fraudulent activity and work with other agencies to track down thieves.
Following these tips may help prevent a dreaded call or piece of mail that tells you your information is being used by someone without your permission.
Michael D. Ramprashad is senior vice president for personal lines at TD Insurance.
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