If you’ve been reading or watching the news you’ve most likely seen the fraud occurring with Ohio’s unemployment claims. This has hit too close to home as several Joseph Group clients and even team members have had their information compromised. Hopefully we are all taking precautions and shredding important documents, using strong and different passwords for every login, not giving out our account or Social Security numbers, being aware of phishing emails, etc. So, what else can you do to protect yourself from Identity Theft?
Freeze Your Credit: The first and most important thing you can do even before you become a victim is to proactively freeze your credit. Anyone can (and should) do this. Do this for yourself, your spouse, your parents, your children and yes, even your minor children. If your credit is frozen, no new credit accounts can be opened under your name or Social Security number. This is the easiest thing to do to protect your credit. You should freeze your credit with each of the 3 credit reporting companies, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. If you wish to apply for credit, such as a car loan, mortgage refinance, new credit card, student loan, etc., you would need to contact each credit bureau to lift the freeze, you would then need to contact them again once you are ready to refreeze your credit. You can do this by phone, online or by mail. If you request a freeze by phone or online, the credit bureau must place the freeze within one business day and lift it within one hour. If you make the request by mail, the credit bureau must place or lift it no later than three business days after it receives the request. This is the simplest thing to do to protect your credit.
Monitor Your Credit Report: You can get one free credit report per year from each of the 3 credit reporting companies or you can go to www.annualcreditreport.com to request all three. Be sure to look for credit accounts that do not look familiar and close any open accounts you do not have plans to use.
Review your statements: This includes bank statements, credit cards, bank and investment accounts. This can tip you off to fraudulent charges on your accounts long before issues show up on your credit report. I know we are all busy, but by taking a few minutes to review your statements, you can save yourself a lot of time and headaches down the road.
What to Do if You’ve Been a Victim
File a Report: The first thing to do if you’ve been a victim of identity theft or fraud is to file a report and follow the free recovery paths outlined by the Federal Government at www.identitytheft.gov . You can use the report to prove to businesses and credit bureaus that you’ve submitted an FTC Identity Theft Report to law enforcement. It may also be necessary to file a report with your local police or sheriff’s department.
Place a Fraud Alert: Anyone can place a free one-year fraud alert by contacting one of the three credit bureaus and that company must inform the other two. When you have an alert on your report, a business must verify your identity before it issues new credit in your name. You can renew the fraud alert after one year. If you have been a victim of identity theft, you can file an Extended Fraud Alert which lasts for seven years, this does require an Identity Theft Report or police report.
Correct Your Credit Report: If you find a fraudulent credit card, loan, etc. on your credit report, you can write to each of the three credit bureaus explaining the situation along with a copy of your FTC Identity Theft Report and proof of your identity. If someone steals your identity, you have the right to remove fraudulent information from your credit report. This is called blocking. Once the fraudulent information is blocked, it won’t show up on your credit report and companies can’t try to collect the debt from you.
Identity Theft Protection Service: If you’ve been the victim of identity theft, if your Social Security number has been compromised, if you know you won’t actively monitor your credit or you don’t want to freeze your credit, consider paying for an identity theft protection service. These companies can provide monitoring services and alert you of new accounts opened in your name and new credit inquiries received. Some even offer recovery services to help you recover lost money and undo damage to your credit with many offering insurance policies of up to $1 million. It is important to note that no service can protect you from having your personal information stolen, these companies simply offer monitoring and recovery services.
It’s a crazy cyber world out there, be smart, freeze your credit, shred documents, use different login ID’s and passwords, and use mouse hovers to check the validity of weblinks to help detect phishing emails. All of these measures can’t prevent you from becoming a victim of identity theft but they certainly can make it more difficult for the cyber criminals trying to steal your information.
As always, if you have questions or need help, contact your Joseph Group Advisor and we will do all we can to assist you.
Stay cyber safe!
Written by Dave Suchland, CRPC, Client Advisor & Team Leader