(NationalUSNews.com) – Millions of Americans are the subject of fraud and identity theft each year. Those who have never experienced identity theft or fraud should count their lucky stars and get to work to reduce their chances of becoming a victim in the coming years.
Data stalkers could be waiting around any corner, physical or digital, to steal consumers’ personal information. Therefore, consumers should take privacy seriously and take the following steps to avoid becoming the victim of fraud or identity theft.
Protect Personal Information
Consumers might think the majority of identity theft happens online, but thieves still target many paper trails to gain access to personal information. Among tips offered by the Houston Police Department, these specifically show how important physical data is:
- Destroy papers with personal information: Shred or tear up any papers that have Social Security numbers, driver’s licenses, addresses, phone numbers, etc.
- Secure mail: Bring in the mail as quickly as possible or get a P.O. box.
- Hoard receipts: OK, don’t hang onto ATM, gas station, or credit card receipts, but don’t leave them hanging in machines.
- Never give information to callers or online solicitors: Always call back an agency or respond through a secure website if asked for personal information.
- Ask why: Avoid giving Social Security or driver’s license numbers when making purchases.
The Federal Trade Commission adds these tips for protecting identities online:
- Use secure passwords: Don’t use passwords that are easy to guess. Add special characters and numbers.
- Ignore e-requests: Don’t respond to emails, text messages, or messaging apps requesting personal information.
- Privacy in public: Don’t input personal information on public computers, such as at libraries.
Monitor for Fraud and Identity Theft
The second important step in protecting against fraud and identity theft is to monitor financial information to ensure transactions committed by thieves do not occur. The main sources of information to monitor on a regular basis are:
- Bank accounts: Monitor bank accounts, either by checking daily online or through monthly statements.
- Credit cards: Again, check these daily or weekly through an app or through monthly statements.
- Medical bills: Check bills as soon as they arrive for unusual charges.
- Missing bills: If bills that arrive by mail have not come, check with the company right away as they may have been stolen from the mailbox.
The most important route to monitoring for identity theft and fraud is to check credit scores with the three major credit monitoring agencies. Each person can request their credit reports once per year through www.annualcreditreport.com or by calling 1-877-322-8228. Check each agency’s report and alert them to any incorrect or possibly fraudulent items.
Act Quickly in Case of Identity Theft or Fraud
Anyone who knows they have become a victim of identity theft or fraud should act quickly to stop the thieves and quickly begin to recover from the situation.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, the first step to recovering from identity theft or fraud is to contact the companies where the theft occurred, explain about the identity theft, ask to have accounts frozen or closed, and change passwords or PIN numbers for the companies.
Second, visit IdentityTheft.gov or call 1-877-438-4338 to create an account that will help recover from identity theft. After answering a series of questions, a personalized recovery plan will be developed to aid in the recovery effort.
Third, contact one of the credit reporting agencies to report the identity theft to freeze the individual account to stop the thieves from opening any new accounts or loans for 90 days. That agency is required to report the theft to the other two agencies. Then, request a free report from each agency to determine how far the fraud has spread.
Finally, follow the recovery plan from IdentityTheft.gov, which likely will include contacting the Social Security Administration if your Social Security number has been compromised.
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