There is a new kind of thief out there, and instead of picking locks and smashing windows, he just uses the fact that you aren’t paying attention.
When was the last time you looked at your credit report?
I have to admit it had been a while since I looked at mine prior to last week. Unfortunately, this is a chore that most Americans don’t do very often. That’s a problem because every 2 seconds an American becomes a victim of identity theft. Over 13 million people were the victim of some kind of identity fraud in 2013 alone. That number grows every year.
Have you had your identity compromised? With the alarming increase in recent cases, be thankful if you haven’t had to deal with this headache yet. We’ve put together a couple of tips to help stay out of the unlucky 13 million.
First, monitor your accounts regularly.
Sixty-six percent of consumers who had fraudulent charges noticed them before their financial institution did. You can and should request a free copy of your credit report regularly to stay ahead of the situation. Each of the three large credit-reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and Trans Union) will provide a free copy each year.
A great strategy is to request a report from a different agency every 4 months to keep an eye on your accounts throughout the year. Visit AnnualCreditReport.com to get the ball rolling. Lance and I both did this last week. It only took about 10 minutes, but provided quite a bit of peace of mind.
Second, protect your personal information to the best of your ability.
Unfortunately, some things are out of your control – when a big-box retailer has a breach in security, for example. However, a few simple steps can make an identity thief’s job much more difficult.
- Create strong passwords for your accounts. A good password is one that has at least 8 characters, does not contain a complete word, is completely different from past passwords, and contains uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers and symbols.
- Shred all documents that contain your personal information.
- Lock your electronic devices such as your phone, tablet and computer.
- Never carry your Social Security card in your wallet.
Third, be prudent with online usage.
Avoid using public wifi for financial transactions or accessing personal accounts online. And never click on suspicious links in emails you receive, even if you know the sender.
Both prevention and awareness help tremendously when protecting your financial profile. Nothing can provide 100% protection, but these simple steps will make it a little harder for criminals to access your information.
If you think you have already been the victim of identity theft, the Federal Trade Commission offers a list of immediate steps you should take. You can find that list by visiting the FTC Consumer Information website.
Our job as financial planners is to help you do the things you know you should do. Most people know they need a will, appropriate insurance, and a strategy for monitoring their credit. But getting it done is another thing all together. If you would like a partner on this journey to financial peace of mind, we would like to help. To set up a consultation, please get in touch.
Heather McFarland says
One of the real dangers of identity theft is when criminals obtain Protected Health Information (PHI), and other vital medical records. Your date of birth, social security number, home address – all of this, and more, is so incredibly sensitive that when it falls into the wrong hands it’s a disaster waiting to happen. Always ensure the safety and security of PHI and all other sensitive information by being vigilant as to who you give your information to. Never assume anything – ask if you are unsure.