How can I Prevent Identity Theft?

Identity theft is on the rise, with more than 10 million people becoming victims of this crime each year. Identity theft can damage your credit report, making it more difficult for you to obtain a mortgage or car loan. You may also find yourself being hassled by creditors who are convinced you owe them money. Since it’s becoming more common for employers to run credit checks on job applicants, identity theft may even cost you a chance at your dream job.

The best way to protect yourself against identity theft is to safeguard your personal information. Don’t give out your Social Security number unless you’re positive the requester has a valid reason for needing this information and never carry your Social Security card in your wallet. Use a paper shredder to destroy copies of your bank statements, bills, receipts, and loan applications. If you shop online, do business with well-known companies whenever possible. Change your passwords and PIN numbers on a regular basis, taking care to avoid choosing codes that can be easily guessed by hackers.

Get in the habit of requesting a copy of your credit report from Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion on a yearly basis. In many cases, victims of identity theft don’t learn of the crime until they are denied credit. The sooner you catch any problems with your credit report, the easier they will be to fix.

If you find evidence of tampering on your credit report, close your accounts immediately. Ask to speak with someone in the fraud or security department and keep detailed records of your correspondence. After the dispute has been settled, ask for a letter stating that the company has discharged the fraudulent debt. You will need this letter if errors later reappear on your credit report.

Filing a police report is the best way to protect yourself if you believe you are a victim of identity theft. Many creditors will ask for a copy of this report to prove that a crime has taken place. If your local law enforcement isn’t sure how to handle the report, contact your state Attorney General’s office for additional assistance. You may also want to consider reporting the crime to the Federal Trade Commission to assist in their efforts to identify identity theft patterns across the United States.

While changing your Social Security number may seem like the easiest solution to identity theft troubles, this is a step that should be taken only as a last resort. If a new Social Security number is used to wipe out records of fraudulent debts, it will erase evidence of your legitimate credit behavior as well.