Vincenza Vicari-Bentley, AFC, Empowering Financial Wellness Program Coordinator
Identity theft involves using someone else's personal information for fraudulent purposes. According to the Federal Trade Commission, in 2020 there were 4.8 million identity theft and fraud reports received, a 45 percent increase from 2019. Unfortunately, identity theft is a growing problem in the U.S., and pandemic relief made it worse as identity thieves targeted relief checks and unemployment benefits to name a few.
However, there are ways to protect your identity and credit and most are free.
Identity Theft Protection Services- You can pay for a subscription to an identity theft protection/monitoring service and fees vary depending on the company. The best choice among the paid services is one that fits your budget and offers you the coverage you want.
Credit Freeze - Freezing your credit reports with all three major credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, Equifax) is the single most important thing you can do to protect yourself against identity theft and stop criminals from opening lines of credit in your name and it’s FREE. Freezing your credit reports won’t stop criminals from accessing your existing accounts, so you need to continue to keep a close eye on your statements for fraudulent activity. You should also check your credit reports regularly and you can do that for free at www.annualcreditreport.com. You can also freeze your child’s credit reports (if they are under 16) even if they don’t have credit yet. Check with each of the three major credit bureaus for the specific steps.
Fraud Alert- If you believe you are at risk of becoming an identity theft victim because you received a data breach notice or if your wallet was lost or stolen, you can place a free, one-year fraud alert on your credit report. You’ll need to contact one the of three main credit reporting bureaus to initiate that (Experian, Equifax or TransUnion). You can also visit IdentityTheft.gov if you believe you have been the victim of identity theft, or if your personal information has been lost or exposed. IdentityTheft.gov is the federal government’s free, one-stop resource for reporting and recovering from identity theft. If you believe you may have been a victim of identity theft, report it to the Federal Trade Commission at IdentityTheft.gov This website is the federal government’s one-stop resource for identity theft victims. The site provides streamlined checklists and sample letters to guide you through the recovery process. Just like your health, prevention is the best approach to keeping your finances protected and safe.
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