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Identity and Credit Protection

Act as though your identity can be stolen at any time and take steps now to protect your identity and credit.  These are just some of the steps you can take to protect yourself.  While each one will take some time for you to review and take action, the time spent would be minimal in comparison to that of fixing a credit mess caused by someone who has stolen your identity.

Stay Safe Online

Most personal security breaches are preventable through basic online awareness.  The National Cyber Security Alliance has provided a great resource for people to learn how to stay safe online.  Review the information in this resource here and take action to change any personal behaviors that may not be in line with their recommendations.    

Freeze Your Credit Reports

Federal law provides you the ability to request a freeze on your credit report at no charge with each of the three credit bureaus.  A freeze on your credit report means that the bureau will not provide your credit report to a business who may have been approached to open a line of credit by a person pretending to be you.  This will most likely stop this line of credit from being extended to this person.  The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has provided a great resource where you can learn more about credit freezes as well as find contact information to execute a credit freeze with the three credit bureaus.  Review the information in this resource here and take action to freeze your credit reports.  

Put a Fraud Alert on Your Credit Reports

Federal law also provides you the ability to place a fraud alert on your credit report.  Using the same example as above, a fraud alert means that the bureau will instruct any business requesting your credit report to go through additional lengths to verify the identity of the person requesting a line of credit with them.  This, especially in combination with a credit freeze, adds an additional layer of protection.  Review the information on the various types of fraud alerts that can be established on the FTC website here and take action to set fraud alerts.  

Closely Monitor Your Credit

In today’s world, everyone should take an active role in monitoring their credit.  There are services that can be subscribed to for a fee, and there are also free services provided by credit card companies (such as monthly credit scores) and credit bureaus to help keep tabs on your lines of credit and your credit report.  Review the FTC’s communications regarding credit monitoring here, and take action to begin monitoring your credit more closely.  

Free Annual Credit Report

By law, the credit bureaus are required to provide you a free annual credit report, upon request.  This should be reviewed in detail every year if you do not otherwise have access to this via another method such as other services offered by the credit bureaus.  This report may have a lot of detail in it, but it will be worth your time to seek to understand the report complete.  In this way, you will be able to notice if things don’t seem to be right.  The FTC has provided a great resource on free credit reports, including information on avoiding impostor websites here.  Take action by requesting your free annual credit report, and review the details of this report carefully.  Be sure to put a reminders in your calendar each year hereafter to again review the details of this report.  

Opt-Out of Pre-screened Credit Offers

The three credit bureaus have teamed together to put together a program allowing individuals to opt out of receiving pre-screened credit offers.  These are the “You’re Approved” credit offers that come in the mail.  Many of us go through the hassle of shredding these offers to protect whatever information may be in them.  Most of us wish they just wouldn’t come to us in the mail.  Well, now you can make this happen.  Keep in mind, this service only helps you avoid pre-screened offers that were developed by reviewing your credit information.  Other offers may still make it to your mail box.  Review the information on this service here, and take action to opt out of these offers.  

Tax-Related Identity Theft

Tax-related identity theft occurs when someone uses your stolen Social Security number to file a tax return.  You may not be aware of this happening until you attempt to e-file your return or until you receive a notice from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) stating that they consider your tax return to be suspicious.  The IRS has provided a resource regarding this type of identity theft here.  Take action by filing your tax return promptly and watching for IRS notifications.  

Other Credit Protection Resources

In the course of monitoring your personal credit, you may find inaccuracies that are not the result of fraud.  The Fair Credit Reporting Act provides you various protections to promote accuracy, fairness, and privacy of your credit information.  The FTC has provided summary details of this act here.  Take action by reviewing your rights under this act. 

Steps to Recover from Identity Theft

The FTC has provided a resource to assist identity theft victims in reporting and recovering from this event.  If you are the victim of such an event, find this resource here and take action to recover from this theft.  You will also want to review carefully each of the above-mentioned topics and recommendations.