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Identity theft happens once every three seconds. Learn how to protect yourself and your family.
How Safe Is Your Personal Information?
If you don't shred your receipts, throw out credit card offers without destroying them first, or have only a simple and easily guessed password for your online accounts, odds are that your personally identifiable information is at risk.
Personally identifiable information (or PII) is your name, your home address, your Social Security number, your driver's license number, credit card information, bank account information, anything that can be used to help someone — such as an identity thief — pose as you. If you're not taking the necessary steps to safeguard yourself and your finances, you're at risk of having your identity stolen.
The ways in which identity theft occurs range from dumpster diving (where identity thieves go through your trash or that of restaurants and retail businesses) to con artists and fraud (posing as someone working for a legitimate business or government organization) to outright theft (stealing medical records or company laptops to access information). Identity theft can also happen online, via email or through scam websites created to look just like actual legitimate company websites, or on the telephone with someone pretending to be from your bank or credit card issuer.
What Happens When Your Identity Is Stolen?
Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information without your permission. They may write checks in your name, open bank accounts or lines of credit, or take out large loans that you'll be expected to pay back. Identity thieves can negatively affect your finances by:
- Creating new lines of credit and running up charges under your name
- Running up balances on your existing credit cards
- Opening up new mobile phone or utility accounts in your name
- Emptying your bank accounts by either withdrawing money directly or writing checks
- Making claims against your health insurance using your name and insurance provider information
- Filing a fraudulent tax return to receive your refund money
What Can You Do To Protect Yourself?
This year, the FTC announced that identity theft was the number one consumer complaint that they received in 2013, accounting for over $1.6 billion dollars in losses and 14 percent of the overall complaints that the Commission received. There are two ways in which you can protect your identity and your finances: one is to be reactive, which is acting after identity theft occurs, and the other is to be proactive, or stopping it before it happens.
Being reactive means that when identity theft occurs, you will be alerting the authorities, the bank, or your credit card companies after your personal information is compromised. You'll have to report that your Social Security number, credit cards, driver's license, bank account, debit card, health insurance card, or other financial or medical information was lost or stolen. This involves not only contacting your credit card companies and bank to place a freeze on your accounts, it also means contacting the three major credit reporting companies (Experian®, Equifax®, and TransUnion®) to place a fraud alert on your credit file. You should also alert your local police as well as create an identity theft report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
Being proactive is the better option as you are alerted to any suspicious activity before loss occurs so you can act immediately to stop it. One way to take charge of your personal information and monitor it is to order a free copy of your credit report. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), you are entitled to a free credit report from each of the credit reporting agencies once a year. You can also enroll in a credit monitoring program. It's important to entrust your information and the monitoring of it to a reputable company.
How can you prevent identity theft? First, it's very important to keep your personal information — such as your date of birth, driver's license number, credit card numbers, and Social Security number — safe and private. Do not share this information with anyone but trusted institutions, and keep track of where you have shared these numbers so that you can trace any misuse. There are also two main ways to track, prevent, and be aware of any suspicious use of your information: identity theft protection services and credit monitoring services.
AmOne's free service can help you find the highly rated and most trusted identity theft protection companies currently available. These companies are used and reviewed by our clients - people just like you - and most offer free trials so you can try their services at no cost, with no obligation to continue if you aren't satisfied. If you have any questions about protecting yourself against identity theft, call us toll-free at 1-800-809-1107 to speak with one of our knowledgeable financial search specialists. You can also fill out our easy online identity theft protection form so we can match you to a highly rated identity theft protection program.