How to Prevent Identity Theft With Focused Protection

One of the most important aspects of personal security is identity theft protection. Just as you might take steps to protect your life, your home, your family, and personal property, you must also take steps to ensure that the only person who is using your identity is, in fact, you.

As an expert in identity theft and a security professional, I’m convinced we all need identity theft protection. And you need to do your homework because even I’m still confused by the services and tools that claim to help protect people from identity theft.

Why? Because there is a lack of transparency in the type of protection that is advertised. First and foremost, identity protection must be transparent. If you are buying this protection, you must know what you will get, what it will do, and what benefits you will experience.

Most services offering identity theft protection have some kind of money-based guarantee or insurance. They also often include restoration, recovery assistance, and the elusive ‘monitoring’ feature. However, these companies rarely offer any details about this monitoring. They don’t say how they do it, for instance. Monitoring might mean searching the web with Google or other search engine, something you can do on your own, to searching for your data through specific programs. Monitoring might also mean credit monitoring, where the service will alert you if one of the credit bureaus shows strange activity on your credit report.

These same services might also claim that they will help a victim recover from any act of identity theft, but if you read the fine print, it will explain that the company is limited in what they can really do.

These services can let you know when your personal information, such as Social Security number, name, debit or credit number, etc, are used to commit a crime or fraud.

They also must keep up with the ever changing criminal landscape, and then offer a number of layers of protection, including detection, monitoring, automatic alerts, and a positive customer experience.

Companies that offer identity theft protection are usually just marketing companies that have created some type of service without a basic knowledge of this type of security. The companies lure you in with a hook, and then charge between $100 and $200 each year. What they don’t say, however, is that they don’t do much more than look online for your data…and if your identity ends up being stolen, they only give you advice on fixing it. What they are doing here is hoping that only a couple of their clients will become a victim of identity theft.

Credit card companies, insurance companies, and banks all offer some form of identity theft protection. Many of these are ‘white label services,’ which are presented to look as if they come from a company you already do business with. When you choose to invest in this type of protection, do not invest in any gimmicky marketing ploy that will spend all of your invested money on advertising. Instead, you should choose a solid company to protect you and handle your data.

Do You Really Need Protection From Identity Theft?

You might have seen advertisements for protection from identity theft, but you also assume that identity theft would never happen to you. Unfortunately, this is the case. We are all subject to becoming a victim of identity theft, and I hope that I have opened your eyes to this. Still not sure? If you can say ‘yes’ to any of the following questions, you are at risk of identity theft:

  • Do you or your child have a Social Security number?
  • Are there bills in your name, such as utility, phone, or credit card bills?
  • Do you go to the dentist or doctor?
  • Have you ever been in the hospital?
  • Do you have a driver’s license?
  • Have you ever filed income taxes?
  • Did you attend college?
  • Do you use the internet?
  • Do you have bad credit?
  • Do you have a bank account?
  • Do you use a credit card?
  • Are you alive?

You get the point. Unless you live in the middle of the woods without utilities, dead, or never documented by any agency, you are at risk of identity theft. Even homeless people can be victims of identity theft, as they likely can answer ‘yes’ to these questions.

Considering a Credit Freeze

A credit freeze is something you might have heard of. This process locks down the credit file of a person, which means a lender cannot check the person’s credit. This helps to prevent criminals from opening a new account by using your Social Security number or name. If a creditor cannot check the credit, they are less likely to give credit to the identity thief.

For this to be effective, however, you must have a credit freeze from all three of the credit bureaus. The process of freezing a person’s credit usually involves an affidavit with a person’s name, Social Security number, address, and a bill, which will verify their identity. You also have to pay a fee, usually less than $20.

Once this is done, your identity, as far as the ability to open a new account, is locked down securely. Keep in mind, however, that there are a few more steps that you must take to ensure both your identity and existing accounts remain safe.

There are more than 10 million people each year that become victims of identity theft. Many of these victims had their Social Security number used to open up an account in their name by a criminal. If they would have had a credit freeze, however, which locks access to their credit file, this could not have happened to them.

When a credit freeze is in place at each of the three major credit bureaus, it is next to impossible for an identity thief to open up any new accounts because the seller or creditor will be unable to check the person’s credit file. When the consumer applies for credit, they can lift the freeze temporarily by using a PIN. This way, it is available when you need it, but not when a criminal tries to do it.

Though a credit freeze is effective and essential in many cases, it is also cumbersome for many. I have gone through the credit freeze process and got a bit perturbed by all of the inaccuracies that I found in how the credit bureaus administered and processed the application. For some reason, when the credit bureau got my application, there was an issue with entering the data incorrectly and some of my freezes didn’t go through as they should. After some phone calls and letters, however, I was able to get everything worked out.

Remember, you also have to submit an affidavit, which means you have to submit your address, name, Social Security number and a copy of a bill to verify your identity. You also might have to pay a fee in some states, though some are free. You can find more information by looking for your state by searching the name of your state and “credit freeze”.

Could Credit Monitoring Help?

You also might be wondering about preventing identity theft with credit monitoring. Currently, this is only available as a subscription service, and often through a company that offers identity theft protection.

The three credit bureaus, Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax, keep an ongoing watch of your credit history, both the good and the bad. Most people do not check up on their credit files, however, until they apply for credit and are turned down. The same goes for the credit score, which is associated with the credit history.

When you choose credit monitoring, however, it ensures that the service looks at least one of these bureaus, and preferably all three of them, to monitor your credit. If the service notices any unknown or unusual activity, they will report it to you.

Credit monitoring also informs you when a lender requests access to your credit file, and it will tell you when there is possible fraud. If you have not, for instance, applied for a credit card or loan, it is your responsibility to take action and either contact the creditor in question or the identity theft service provider. Then you can refute the existence of the new account.

What About a Fraud Alert?

You might also be considering signing up for fraud alerts. This service is only available through any one of the three credit bureaus. This adds one more layer of authentication to the application process for credit. If you apply for credit, or if someone else applies for credit in your name, when you have an active fraud alert, the creditor or lender will get an alert to verify your identity before they extend any credit.

You should know, however, that fraud alerts are temporary, and they only last for about 90 days. Though this is a good tool, it is temporary, so it is not a good option for those who are looking for long-term protection against identity theft.

If you find that your identity has already been compromised, it is possible to add an extended fraud victim alert to your credit report. To do this, you must submit the copy of your identity theft report that was filed with your local, state, or federal law enforcement agency. This alert will work and remain active for seven years from the time it was filed.

If you are an active military member, you can add an active duty alert to your report, too. This will remain on your file for a year.

Most of us simply do not have the resources, time, or knowledge to effectively protect our identities. On top of this, not all types of identity theft or fraud can be prevented, so it is best to understand what can happen. Since the current climate makes it so easy for cybercrimes to happen, it is essential that you have some type of identity theft protection.