Identity Theft Protection

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What Is Identity Theft?

With identity theft, a scammer uses personal information such as your Social Security number, driver’s license number or financial account information to wreak havoc on your financial life.

An identity thief may take over your bank account and drain your balance, charge a credit card up to the limit, take over your utility or mobile phone account, and apply for credit and loan accounts in your name, sticking you with the bills and a damaged credit history to clean up.

An identity thief might also apply for health insurance, jobs, tax refunds and even commit other crimes while impersonating you.

Identity thieves nab your private information through stolen wallets, bogus websites, computer viruses, by combing through your mail (snail mail and email), dumpster-diving behind businesses, posing as employees at legitimate businesses and using skimmers at ATMs to nab your PIN and financial account information.

Identity thieves also strike through data breaches of major retailers and financial companies, and it’s a fast-growing crime. Identity theft has topped the list of consumer complaints filed with the Federal Trade Commission for 14 straight years.

To guard against identity theft, it’s important to monitor all of your financial accounts on a regular basis, as well as monitoring your credit. If an identity thief has stolen some of your information to open a new account in your name, it will impact your credit scores.

You can monitor your credit scores for free twice a month on Any unexpected changes in your score could signal identity theft and you should pull copies of your credit reports (you can do that for free once a year) to investigate further. Act fast to protect your credit and your finances.

How to Protect Yourself From Identity Theft

Protect yourself and your finances from identity theft by monitoring your credit and keeping close watch on your private personal and financial information.

To guard against identity theft, follow these financial safety tips.

1. Guard your important personal information. A Social Security number is the prime example of this, although it’s important to keep things like your birthdate, credit card number, and driver’s license number safe too. Only share your information with companies that you trust. And avoid carrying your Social Security card in your wallet — you have it memorized anyways (hopefully).

2. Shred private financial documents with a cross-cut shredder before recycling.

3. Avoid posting bills in your mailbox, where an identity thief can strike. Instead, place your outgoing mail in collection boxes or drop your bills and other mail at the post office.

4. Keep virus and spyware software up-to-date on your laptop and home computer and use firewall software for protection.

5. Use strong passwords to protect your financial accounts. And change your passwords frequently. You should also make sure you follow the advice of experts when data breaches happen – they can tell you whether you need to change your password, get credit monitoring, or do more to protect your identity.

6. Get free annual copies of your credit reports from each of the major credit reporting agencies — Equifax, TransUnion and Experian.

7. Monitor your credit score. With’s free tools, you receive a free credit score each month plus expert tips on improving your credit.

An unexpected change in your credit scores could mean an identity thief has opened an account in your name.

For an added level of protection against identity theft, you may wish to sign up for a credit monitoring service so you will receive more frequent updates of changes in your credit file. Always compare identity theft protection plans carefully to make sure you understand the service’s terms.

Signs Your Identity Has Been Stolen

Identity theft is everywhere. Here are a few common signs that your identity has been compromised:

1. A Sudden Increase In an Account Balance

An unexpected increase in the balance of one or more credit card accounts could be a possible sign that someone made charges in your name.

2. Your Card is Declined

If you pay your bills on time and haven’t overspent your credit card’s limit, your card is unlikely to be declined. If it is, pay attention. Don’t just shrug it off and try again later. Find out why.

3. Your Credit Score Drops

One good reason to monitor your credit score is to watch for any unexplained drops that could be a sign someone is using and trashing your credit.

4. Unauthorized Inquiries

When you apply for credit – for a new credit card, for example – the lender checks your credit report or scores. This creates an inquiry on your credit report. If you are keeping an eye on your credit reports and find inquiries you didn’t initiate, someone may be trying to open credit in your name.

5. A Mysterious New Account

If you’re keeping an eye on your credit reports you’ll be able to watch for any new accounts that you did not open. The sooner you spot unauthorized credit opened in your name the faster you can shut it down.

6. Debt Collectors Are Calling

You know you’ve paid your bills on time. So why is this debt collector calling and demanding payment for something you didn’t buy? It could be that you’ve been hit by an identity thief.

A Way to Spot Identity Theft Early: Watch Your Credit

Monitor your credit accounts regularly. This is easiest to do by checking online for charges you don’t recognize. For help monitoring your credit, subscribe to a free service, like’s free Credit Report Card. It provides two free credit scores and lets you check your credit once a month for free. If your scores drop because of fraudulent activity, you’ll be able to tell.

Steps to Take If You’ve Fallen Victim

If you’ve been hit by identity theft, it’s important that you act immediately to prevent further damage to your finances. Here’s what to do:

Get On the Phone

Call the bank, lender, card company, utility or merchant with whom you have the affected account. Fast action stops thieves from racking up more charges in your name.

Write Down Everything

Grab a notebook. Log every call and contact you make. Note the date, time and length of the call, who you spoke with, what you said and what they said. File copies of documents. Use certified mail for all letters.

Find Allies and Resources

Call your insurance agent, bank or credit union and the human resources department at work to ask what access you may have to free or low-cost damage-control programs for identity theft victims.

Reset Your Passwords

Make your passwords strong, which means they should include upper- and lowercase letters, as well as numbers and symbols.

Consider a “Security Freeze”

This denies access to your credit to all but your current creditors. It’s not always recommended. Read “When Freezing Your Credit is a Bad Idea” for the pros and cons.

Monitor Your Credit

Order your free credit reports. Get a report each from Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. (As a fraud victim, you are entitled to these reports in addition to your free annual credit reports.) Comb them for errors and follow each company’s instructions for disputing an error. If you want help monitoring your credit, subscribe to a free service, like’s Credit Report Card, which provides two free credit scores and a free monthly credit check. Falling credit scores can alert you to fraudulent activity.

Make a Police Report

Call the police. Even if they can’t catch the thieves immediately, reporting the crime could help make a case against the thieves down the line. And you may need a police report to prove that charges made in your name are not yours.

Dial 877-438-4338

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) makes identity theft a priority. While it doesn’t investigate individual cases, it collects information on crimes and helps police in their investigations.

Be Patient

It might be tough to hear when you’re the stressed-out victim of identity theft, but resolving this problem could take some time and work on your part. Take a big breath once in a while and keep forging ahead.

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