According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2014 about 1 in 14 Americans over the age of 16 were the victims of identity theft.
After being victimized, those 17 million Americans lost time, money, and sleep trying to deal with the effects of the crimes.
We would like to help you avoid a similar fate, so for the next few weeks we’re going to detail some of the many steps you can (and should) take to prevent thieves from taking advantage of you, and your loved ones. Freeze your credit report
When you hear about “identity theft”, it usually means that a crook has used someone’s personal information to open a credit card account in the victim’s name.
The perpetrator then makes unauthorized charges on the account until discovered, either by the credit card issuer, or the victim.
The victim is rarely liable for the unauthorized charges, but it can take several days or more for the credit card issuer to finally fix the situation. In the meantime, the victim may be inconvenienced by the situation, and her credit situation can be affected (hopefully only temporarily). In some cases the unpaid debt is erroneously transferred to collection agencies, which then badger the victim for payment that is technically not the victim’s responsibility, but difficult to quickly refute.
The absolute best way to prevent this crime from affecting you is to “freeze” your credit report with the three main credit bureaus. The freeze means that lenders, credit card companies, and other organizations can’t get access to your credit information (and therefore, open an account or make a loan) without your permission.
Even if you impose a freeze, the companies that already have a relationship with you will still be able to get access to your information. Unless you have been a victim of identity theft in the past, there is usually a cost of $5 to $10 per bureau to freeze your report, and you may incur another fee to “unfreeze” your report so that an institution can verify your information. Here are the names, websites, and phone numbers of each of the three primary credit bureaus: Experian 888.397.3742 Transunion 888.909.8872 Equifax 800.349.9960 For information on your state’s particular laws relating to credit freezes, go to tinyrul.com/cfreeze.
Last but not least, don’t forget about children or older family members who may have difficulty navigating the freezing process, but ironically may be even more vulnerable to victimization.
Again, depending on the relative state laws, you may be able to freeze their credit reports for them. But if you can’t, at least pass on this information and offer to assist them in the process.
Put a “fraud alert” on your report
If you don’t want to spend the money that’s usually required freeze your credit reports, you can instead have a fraud alert placed on your reports with the bureaus.
The presence of the fraud alert will give notice to any potential lenders viewing your report that they need to contact you directly to get your authorization to open an account, rather than just approving the application and moving forward.
To establish a fraud alert, visit the website of one of the three primary credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, or Transunion).
You will have to answer various multiple-choice questions to verify your identity, and the subjects of the questions can range from your checking account number to the addresses of your past residences.
The good news is that to establish a fraud alert with all three major bureaus, you only have to complete the process with one of them. That one will then notify the other two for you.
The bad news is that fraud alerts have to be renewed by you every 90 days, unless you have filed an Identity Theft Report. Then you can have the alerts placed for up to seven years until you have to renew it yourself.