Unless you’ve been touched by it or have known someone who’s been a victim, you may not think much about identity theft. However, according to the Bureau of Justice, each year about 17.6 million Americans or 7 percent of the population are victims of ID theft. That’s each year! About 2 in 5 of us have either been victims or know someone who has, according to one statistic. Another report states that financial losses add up to about $50 billion each year! To me, these numbers mean that we’re all likely to be affected by ID theft at some point if we haven’t been already; or worse, we’re being victimized right now and do not even know it.
The good news is we can each take simple steps to protect ourselves and our families and stop ID thieves in their tracks. Here are three easy actions you can take:
- Check your credit report regularly – One of the best ways to detect and stop identity theft is to check your credit report on a regular basis. You can get one free report per year from each of the three major credit bureaus by visiting www.annualcreditreport.com. I recommend getting one of your three free ones at regular intervals throughout the year. When you get it, be looking for accounts that you don’t recognize as well as names and addresses that are not yours. If you see anything suspicious make sure to call the creditor and credit bureau as soon as possible to shut down any potentially criminal activity.
- Protect your kids – The theft of minor children’s identities has become popular with criminals because it can often go on for years without detection. The best way to protect your kids and their future financial health is to freeze their credit while they are still minors. You can contact each of the major credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax, and Trans Union for their specific requirements. Once frozen, no credit can be issued using their social security number until it’s been unfrozen by you.
- Keep your personal information secure – It’s unfortunate, but ID theft victims are often victimized by those close to them – friends, family, and trusted service providers. Keep your family’s personal information, such as social security cards and numbers secure. Do not give out your social security number, unless absolutely necessary. Always ask if it’s absolutely necessary and understand why they may need a social security number. Often places that ask for you SSN, such as medical or service provider, can assign you another identification number so that you don’t have to give out your SSN.
The bottom line is that we all need to be vigilant and take the responsibility to monitor our personal credit and do what we can to prevent being a victim of ID theft. None of these steps take much time and go a long way to protecting the good credit we’ve worked hard to build. If you want to learn more about protecting yourself and your family from identity theft, here’s a great resource. As always, please let me know if you have any questions, I’m here to help!