I don't believe in being too paranoid about identity theft. We do have laws which protect the limit of our financial liability if someone uses our credit cards illegally, for example. But, I also know that it takes time and an emotional toll to deal with issues that arise when your identity is used by someone else.
We have a responsibility to keep our identifying information as safe as possible:
- Keep your Social Security number as private as you can.
- Think twice before providing identifiable information such as your mother's maiden name and your birthday in public places such as social media.
- Check your financial accounts regularly and watch for any transactions that you don't recognize. Report concerns immediately.
Also, check your credit report to see if someone is using your identity. One of the reasons people steal and use other people's identity is so that they can take out a loan – or some form of credit – in someone else's name. But you'll never see any paperwork about this loan.
However, if someone else opens credit accounts with your identity, they will show up on your credit report. In the U.S., we have three main credit bureaus that collect data about how we manage debt.You need to check your credit reports to be sure all the information in your reports is accurate and about you. Check your credit reports for FREE once a year at www.annualcreditreport.com. Or you can call (877) 322-8228 to request them.
The credit bureaus are competing businesses and don't share data with each other. Be sure to check all three of your reports – not just one – as they may have different information. You can check all your reports on the same day or spread it out and check one every four months. Do what works best for you.
When you check your credit report it does NOT affect your credit score. (It can hurt your credit score if too many lenders check it.) If you spot information on your credit report that is not accurate, follow the information listed on your report about how to correct it. And, if you believe you have been a victim of identity theft, the steps you need to take are outlined at on the FTC Identity Theft.gov website. .
Another step you may want to consider to protect your identity is to put a freeze on your credit reports. A freeze means that your credit report will not be released to any creditors requesting it. This will likely stop anyone from opening new credit accounts or receiving a loan – this includes you. To place a credit freeze, you need to write each of the three credit bureaus and pay a small fee. You can end the freeze but it takes up to three days. People 65 years or older are not charged to place the freeze, but may be charged to lift it. Read the fact sheet at the Illinois Attorney General's office for more information about how to set-up a credit freeze,
If your identity information was stolen from the recent data breach at OPM, then you will receive an email or letter from the government. You will likely be offered a credit monitoring service. Be very careful and do not click on links in emails; too often very legitimate-looking emails are actually phishing scams. Instead, go to https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/opm-data-breach-what-should-you-do and follow the directions from the website.
Be watchful and take steps to protect your identity. The time you spend now may save you many hours in the future.