Millions of Americans fall victim to identity theft each year. According to the Department of Justice, an estimated 17.6 million people, or 7% of all U.S. residents age 16 or older, were victims of one or more incidents of identity theft in 2014 (latest available). What’s more, about 7% of identity theft victims experienced out-of-pocket losses of $100 or more.
What can you do to help reduce your chances of having your identity stolen? The steps below can help you prevent significant losses.
- Check your credit reports every year. You have the right to obtain a free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each of the three credit reporting bureaus—Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Check each report thoroughly to ensure there aren’t any unidentified accounts on the report.
- Place a freeze on your credit reports. This can help stop an identity thief from opening a credit card account under your name. You simply contact the three credit bureaus and request a credit freeze. A credit freeze restricts access to your credit report until you ask the credit bureau to temporarily lift or remove it. Note that, thanks to a new federal law enacted in May, there is no longer a fee to request a freeze, effective September 21, 2018.
- Monitor your email. You want to be on the lookout for phishing scams, particularly those that appear to come from a credit card company, bank, retailer, or anyone else you do business with. Many of these emails will direct you to a phony website that will ask you to input sensitive data, such as your account numbers, passwords and Social Security number.
- Be careful online. When banking or shopping online, be sure to use websites that protect your financial information with encryption, particularly if you are using a public wireless network via a smartphone. Sites that are encrypted start with “https”. The “s” stands for secure. Also, be sure to use antivirus and anti-spyware software.
- Set strong passwords. While your birthday and pet’s name may be easy to remember, they do not make good passwords to secure access to your accounts. Instead, follow password best practices such as avoiding names, places and dictionary words; making all passwords at least 8 characters long; and incorporating a mix of capital and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols.
- Google yourself. See what information is available about you online. Be sure to check other search engines, such as Yahoo and Bing. This will help you identify potential theft sources and will also help you monitor your online reputation.
What should you do if your identity is stolen?
First, call one of the three credit bureaus and ask them to place a 12-month fraud alert on your credit report. They must contact the other two bureaus to place fraud alerts on your reports. You’ll also want to get a copy of all three credit reports.
A little more about us:
Compass Financial is an independent, fee-based financial advisory firm in West Des Moines, Iowa. The Compass Team helps individuals and families develop an inspiring vision of their financial future and a realistic strategy.
By listening closely to our clients’ true needs, wants, hopes, desires and dreams we are able to combine Wealth Management and broad Financial Planning customized to each individual situation. It’s our goal to assist you in developing a personalized financial road map. The results from the process should include confidence that comes from planning. As we all know, life happens, sometimes ambushing the best laid plans. Accepting a new reality and adapting the financial plan is work we have done many times for our clients.
We also offer Financial Check Up or Second Opinion Services to those who want to enhance the service they are already receiving. This should lead to a better understanding of your current plans and give added confidence to your existing advisor relationship.
Sometimes life’s biggest challenges come in the form of transitions, retirement, marriage, health issues, divorce, unexpected loss, or even college savings. Our team at Compass has experienced many of these life transitions, it’s our hope to come alongside you and your family. These defining moments of life provide opportunities to implement financial strategies that can have long lasting impact. The first step is always the most difficult, but can also be the most rewarding. Please Contact Us today to receive your free, no obligation, one hour initial consultation!