In the past several months numerous reports of data breaches have surfaced, leaving affected consumers to wonder if their data might end up in the wrong hands. While many companies who experienced a breach have chosen to offer credit monitoring to the individuals at risk of having their information compromised, resources are also in place for consumers to do their own monitoring to help quickly spot any signs of identity theft.
Through the Fair Credit Reporting Act consumers have access to review their credit reports free of charge from each of the three major Credit Reporting Agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. You do not have to request all three at once – you can actually check one of each of these reports every 4 months at no cost.
You can get your credit reports by calling (887) 322-8228 or by going online to www.annualcreditreport.com. Be careful of imposters claiming to have your free report. Annualcreditreport.com is the only service associated with the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Please note that your credit report is maintained by your Social Security Number. This is only one of the very few times the BBB will say it is ok to give out your SSN. However, you know who you are calling and why.
Review each report carefully to be sure that all information that appears is accurate and all accounts listed belong to you. Immediately report any questionable information appearing in your report.
Although there is no method for guaranteeing that identity theft will never happen to you, here are more ways to further reduce the chances of having your identity stolen:
- Carry only the cards you actually need. Minimize the identification information and the number of cards you carry in your wallet or purse. Do not carry your Social Security card unless you need it. Cut up old or expired credit cards.
- When selecting a PIN for your ATM card, choose something other than personal information that could be easily discovered by thieves, such as your birthdate or telephone number. Memorize your PIN; do not write it on your ATM card or keep it written on a piece of paper somewhere in your wallet.
- Never put your account information on the outside of an envelope or on a postcard on outgoing mail. Don’t put place any mail that contains a check or any private information, such as bank account numbers, in your mailbox at home for pickup by your mailman. Take it to a USPS mailbox or the post office whenever possible to avoid mailbox thieves.
- Keep personal information in a safe place. If you employ outside help or are having service work done in your home, keep your personal information out of sight.
- Give your Social Security number only when absolutely necessary. Ask to use another type of identifying number whenever possible.
- Do not give out personal information over the phone, through the mail, or over the Internet unless you have initiated contact or know the business with which you are dealing.
- Compare your ATM receipts and cashed checks with your periodic bank statements to check for unauthorized transfers or charges.
- Shred credit card statements, bank statements and pre-approved credit offers when you do not need them. Consider investing in a paper shredder.