In 2017, 16.7 million people were victims of identity theft, suffering a record $16.8 billion in losses. Today, many of our standard transactions like banking, bill paying, and even shopping are online. The growth of online activity has increased convenience for consumers, but the continuous exchange of personal information online has likely contributed to the increase in identity theft victims.
As a result, it can sometimes feel impossible to protect yourself and your family. If you become a victim of identity theft, you don’t want to be left wondering what to do. Instead, arm yourself with the knowledge to protect yourself and recover your identity if you fall victim to fraud.
Keep an Eye on Your Credit Reports
The sooner you catch a fraudulent charge, the better. Each year, you are entitled to a free credit report from all three credit bureaus. This includes Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. So, mark a date on your calendar each year to review your credit report. Also, always make sure you confirm that all the transactions on your bank and savings accounts are correct. It is good practice to take one day each week — or at least one day at month — to check your transaction history to ensure that no one is using your credit information without your knowledge.
Sign Up for Credit Monitoring
There are several services you can use to track what is happening with your credit throughout the year. There are free services like Credit Sesame or Credit Karma that can flag unusual activity, while paid services can offer additional credit protection, including up to $1 million in identity theft insurance. Review your needs to determine which service will best notify you of fraudulent activity.
Lock or Freeze Your Accounts
If you feel that something odd has occurred with your credit, you want to call the three major credit bureaus and freeze your accounts. This step will prevent anyone from accessing your credit or opening accounts in your name. Another option is to lock your account if you do not want to go through the process of freezing and unfreezing them.
However, while locking is more straightforward, some protections will only occur when you freeze your accounts. Fortunately, both of these processes are free, so do not hesitate to take advantage of this safeguard if you believe something inappropriate has occurred with your credit.
Now If You Become an Identity Theft Victim, You Know What to Do
Today, many details of our lives are accessible on the internet. With the prevalence of social media and an increase in digital tools that replace tasks like going to the bank, identity thieves are having a field day with accessing and spreading consumer data.
You may feel like it is impossible to know exactly what to do to protect yourself from identity theft. However, you are not powerless. The processes above can help you guard your information, and empower you if you ever become a victim of identity theft.
You can learn more about how to recover from identity theft in my book, The Identity Theft Recovery Guide: What to Do When Your Social Security Number or Personal Information Have Been Stolen.