Identity theft is a serious crime that can have devastating consequences.

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Identity Theft: Safeguarding Your Credit and Reputation
3 years ago
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Identity theft is a serious crime that can have devastating consequences. Identity theft occurs when personal or financial information is stolen and used to commit fraud or other crimes. Identity theft can destroy your credit, ruin your reputation, and cost you time, money, and legal expenses.

Anyone can become a victim of identity theft, even when precautions are taken to protect sensitive personal information. However, there are a number of safeguards that can help reduce your risk and secure your identity.

Personal information should never be given out over the phone, online, or through the mail unless you are certain who is on the receiving end of the information. The safest approach when a creditor or other business calls you and asks for information is to call them back using a number previously provided by the institution.

Financial documents and records that contain sensitive information should be shred before being placed into the trash. Identity thieves have been known to pick through trashcans looking for bills, account statements, and other documents in order to collect the necessary information to penetrate your accounts.

Your Social Security number should never be freely given out to anyone. Your card should not be carried with you, and you should never write your number down on your checks or paperwork. In most instances, businesses and doctors do not need your Social Security number. Other identifiers can be used, and you should insist on knowing exactly why they need your Social Security number and how they intend to use it.

Never click on links in emails, and never assume that any email you receive is legitimate. If you believe the email you have received is valid, type the web address directly into your browser to visit the website. Phishers often pretend to be well?”known financial institutions, and send emails attempting to trick you into entering your personal information, passwords, and account numbers into a website designed to look legitimate. Once you enter your personal information into their fake website, they store that information and later use it to access your accounts.

Online security can be increased by the addition of firewalls and anti-virus software. Security software needs to be updated frequently in order to remain effective, but most companies that offer anti-virus and anti-spyware products will provide you with updates at no charge. Additionally, it is important to never use obvious passwords to protect your information, such as your date of birth or mother's maiden name.

Signs that your identity has been compromised include unfamiliar charges on your bank or credit cards, being denied credit for no obvious reason, and receiving bills that appear suspicious or arrive in an unusual way. Review all of your financial records carefully to check for inaccurate information and suspicious activity. It is also helpful to check your credit report frequently for unusual changes. The three major credit companies, Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion, are required by law to give you a free copy of your credit report every year.

If you suspect that your identity has been stolen, there are several steps you should immediately take to ensure that additional damage is not done to your credit and reputation. Immediately contact your bank and other financial institutions to alert them to the suspicious activity. Close any accounts that have been opened fraudulently or that have been compromised, and ask that your remaining accounts be monitored more closely to watch for additional fraud. Keep copies of every document and records of all communication with your financial institutions for future reference.

File a police report with your local agency to provide documentation for your creditors, and contact all three of the consumer reporting companies and have a ?œFraud Alert??placed on your reports. This enables you to receive a free copy of your credit report, and provides you with the opportunity to examine each report carefully for suspicious accounts and activity.

It is often very difficult to recover from the damaging effects of identity theft. If your identity is stolen, it can affect every area of your life. Even minor damage to your credit can prevent you from buying a new car or getting a job. The protection of sensitive personal and financial information should be a priority for everyone.
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