Identity Theft: Minimizing the Risk
Last year, I was a victim of financial identity theft. My private information was used to sign up for phone and internet services in a different state, for which I received collection letters from the service providers. My privacy, credit score, financials, and emotional health took a big hit. It felt personal. I was angry and frustrated at having to sort through this mess. It was not as fun as that episode of Friends where Monica befriends the woman who stole her credit card (The One with the Fake Monica, S1 E21).
The Federal Trade Commission reports receiving 2.2 million fraud reports from consumers in 2020! And out of that, 1.4 million reports were due to identity theft, about twice as many as in 2019.*
I cannot say that I am grateful for what happened, but I sure did learn a lot from this experience. Here are some tips on how to safeguard yourself and your loved ones from identity theft:
Be in the know:
- Read about the different types of identity theft (com/privacy-security-fraud/protect-yourself/types-of-identity-theft).
- Find out if your employer offers full or discounted identity protection services. Experian and other credit reporting agencies offer paid services, as do other companies (com/360-reviews/privacy/identity-theft-protection).
- Regularly review your credit reports – consumers can request free credit reports once a year (com/index.action).
Protect your information:
- Ensure your account passwords are strong enough and regularly updated. If you are like me and struggle to remember your passwords, look into a reputable password manager service.
- When using public computers (i.e. at the library, airport, etc.), do not save your passwords and other private information.
- Watch out for phishing attempts (com/blogs/ask-experian/how-to-avoid-phishing-scams/).
- Do not give your personal information over the phone.
- Collect your mail daily.
- Shred documents containing personal information.
- Explore the option of freezing your credit and signing up for fraud alerts (consumer.ftc.gov/articles/what-know-about-credit-freezes-and-fraud-alerts)
I whole-heartedly hope that none of you will ever experience identity theft. But if you do, here are the steps you can take (identitytheft.gov/ – /Steps). Stay safe and healthy!
*FTC resource: ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2021/02/new-data-shows-ftc-received-2-2-million-fraud-reports-consumers