10 Ways to Prevent, Detect, and Fight Identity Theft
The average identity theft victim spends 600 hours clearing their identity. This means getting reports and affidavits proving the theft, figuring out what's been compromised, and working to get their identity back. That's a lot of time to spend recovering from a crime of which you were a victim.
The bad news is that you cannot protect yourself 100% from identity theft. The good news is you can greatly reduce your risk by acting quickly when your personal information has been compromised.
Place a Fraud Alert
You can place a fraud alert on your credit report by contacting one of the three credit bureaus. A fraud alert lasts from 90 days to 7 years and notifies businesses to take extra steps to confirm your identity when actions are taken on your credit.
Place a Credit Report Security Freeze
A security freeze goes a step beyond a fraud alert by requiring a PIN or password before a business can check your credit report. Unlike a fraud alert, there's a fee to put a security freeze on your credit report (unless you're already a victim of identity theft).
Order Your Free Credit Reports
Each year, you're entitled to one free credit report from each of the three credit bureaus. By ordering one of these reports every four months, you can keep an eye on your credit all year long. The only drawback is that you can only get one bureau's report at a time. So if the identity theft doesn't show up on all three of your reports, you could miss it for a year.
Buy Your Credit Reports
If you've used up your annual credit reports, you can always purchase one for as low as $11 (Equifax) or all three for as low as $15 (from TrueCredit.com). You may be able to get a free credit report if you subscribe to a credit monitoring service. Make sure you cancel the credit monitoring service before the trial runs out to avoid getting charged.
Monitor Your Accounts Online
If your bank allows you to view your accounts online, sign up. Log in to check your account periodically to make sure no unauthorized charges have been made on your account. Keep your login information safe by not writing it down and not telling it to anyone.
Enroll in Credit Monitoring
Even though we don't recommend it because of the high cost versus alternatives, credit monitoring is one way of detecting identity theft. Compare the cost of some credit monitoring services to the cost of ordering your credit report, and you'll find that buying a few credit reports a year can be cheaper. If you decide to sign up for credit monitoring, make sure you shop around.
Keep Your Social Security Number Safe
In the wrong hands, your social security number can be lethal to your credit. Avoid carrying your social security card in your wallet. Don't write your number down. Even pay attention to who's around when you give your number to customer service representatives.
Pick Up Your Check Order
Stolen checks are another way thieves take your identity. With your routing and checking account number, a thief can create new checks and use them to make purchases. When you order new checks, pick them up from the bank rather than having them mailed to your home.
Stop Pre-Approved Credit Card Offers
Those pre-approved credit card offers have your personal information on them. Thieves have been known to use these offers to get credit cards in the victim's name. Shred credit card offers before throwing them away. Or stop them altogether by opting-out.
Pay Your Bills Online
In #8, you learned that identity thieves use checks to steal your identity. Well, they can also steal checks out of your mailbox when you mail bills. Many banks now offer online bill pay. If you can't send your bills from a secure post office box, pay them online.