Audio Version: Let Me Hear It!
Some pretty great things get better with age. Wine and cheese with George Clooney, anyone? Unfortunately, there are other (far less desirable) things that also seem to be improving with time, like “super” head lice and identity thieves. Identity thieves are like the adult version of head lice; despite our best efforts to stave them off, the little critters can still find a way to live off of us. The number of reported thefts of identity has risen nearly 50% in just one year. While you can’t bulletproof your identity any more than you can your child’s scalp, here are a few top tips from USA.gov to keep the unwanted doppelgangers from applying for credit, filing taxes or getting medical services in your name:
- Don’t carry your social security card in your wallet or write your number on your checks. Only give out your social security number (SSN) when absolutely necessary.
- Don’t respond to unsolicited requests for personal information (your name, birthdate, social security number, or bank account number) by phone, mail, or online.
- Shield the keypad when typing your passwords on computers and at ATMs.
- Collect mail promptly and ask the post office to put your mail on hold when you are away from home.
- If bills or financial statements are late, contact the sender.
- Ask for copies of your receipts and promptly compare receipts with account statements.
- Shred receipts, credit offers, account statements, and expired cards to prevent “dumpster divers” from getting your personal information.
- Store personal information in a safe place at home and at work.
- Install firewalls and virus-detection software on your home computer.
- Create complex passwords that identity thieves cannot guess easily and change them if a company that you do business with has a breach of its databases.
- Review your credit reports at least once a year to ensure they don’t include accounts you haven’t opened.
Fixing the Problem: Clearing things up will take some work, so be patient and make it a priority. As a first step, go to the FTC’s identity theft website and create a personalized, printable action plan. Your action plan will be broken down into steps you must take immediately (like freeze or close fraudulent accounts and notify the credit reporting agencies, the FTC and the police) and those you can handle over the next few days (remove bogus charges from accounts and credit reports). The website also gives you special instructions on handling more unique types of fraud like tax, medical or child fraud and provides helpful sample letters you’ll need to notify key parties to reclaim your identity.