Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in the country, with almost 10 million incidents a year. In fact, every minute, 19 people become victims, and the average cost to the victim is about $500 and 30 hours.
Those are some scary stats. The good news is that you can protect yourself by catching potential problems early and enlisting the support of your financial institution. Here are some tips for keeping your identity out of thieves’ hands:
- If you lose your credit card, let your card issuer know right away. Not only will the issuer cancel the card and get a new one with new numbers right away, but the customer service representative will let you know if any erroneous charges have already been made on the card and can prevent any new ones from going through.
- Avoid using ATMs in obscure locations because it’s easier for thieves to install “skimming” devices on them that steal your information when you swipe your card. According to Shaun Murphy, founder of PrivateGiant, a company that seeks to protect personal information online, consumers should also avoid using their card on websites that do not have the “lock” icon in the browser, because they aren’t as secure as sites that have the icon.
- Check your account statements for errors. This is likely the first warning sign you’ll encounter. When checking your statement, you might see an unexplained or inaccurate entry – such as a withdrawal, a check, an electronic transaction or a purchase that you don’t recognize.
- Look for mistakes on your credit report. You can request a free copy of your credit report through annualcreditreport.com and review it for any inaccurate information. The most common indicators of identity theft include a credit inquiry you don’t recognize or a new account you didn’t open. That could suggest someone else is impersonating you. Let the credit bureaus know about any errors so the false information can be removed.
- Respond to calls from your financial institution. Financial institutions are constantly on the lookout for strange charges on your account; in fact, they might notice a problem before you do. If you receive a notice about a potential problem, be sure to call them back to sort it out. If the message comes in the form of an email, make sure it’s not a phishing email (where a fraudster masquerades as a trusted entity to try to acquire your personal information).
- Follow up on odd bills you receive. If you start getting calls from debt collectors related to accounts that don’t belong to you, or you receive bills for medical treatments you’ve never had, then someone else could be using your identity and your health insurance information. Follow up with the provider and your insurance company to protect your account.
- Stay on top of missing mail. If you don’t receive your bank statement by mail and you usually do, there could be a problem. The perpetrator may have changed your address with the financial institution. If other pieces of mail are missing, it may mean the perpetrator is collecting information about you to develop a profile. Similarly, if you don’t receive your email statement, someone may have conquered your online account and altered the settings to lock you out. Follow up directly with your financial institution or the biller to get the problem fixed ASAP.
- You receive unexpected mail. You might get a notice from the post office that your mail is being forwarded to another address when you haven’t requested an address change. Or you receive a letter concerning an account you never opened. Other mailings that could be a sign of identity theft: You receive a credit card in the mail that you never applied for or the IRS notifies you about unreported wage income you didn’t earn. If you find yourself in any of these situations, then it’s time to follow up with the institution sending the mail to clarify the issue.
- Look out for errors on your Social Security statement. If the earnings reported on your statement are greater than your actual earnings, someone might have stolen your Social Security Number and is using it for wage reporting services. It’s another red flag that there could be a problem that needs your attention.
- Investigate if you’re denied an application based on your credit. If you have good credit but are denied an application for a new credit card or a loan, that may indicate that your identity has been stolen. It’s time to pull your credit report and do a full review of all your accounts to get to the bottom of the problem.
With these strategies in hand, you can help reduce your chances of becoming a victim of identity theft.
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This article is courtesy of US News: Money.