Identity theft is used in countless movies and TV shows where secret agents become someone else in order to gain access to spy labs and formulas. Or maybe you’ve seen that episode where a child fills out a credit card application in the name of a relative and goes on a spending spree. While identity theft certainly can be creative to move along a plot, it is more devastating in real life, not to mention illegal. Take the latter example – a child with a credit card belonging to someone else can be a danger to that person’s bank account, credit history and credit score. Always monitor your free credit reports and scores on a regular basis to make sure no unusual credit activity is occuring.
Unlike the movies, where identity theft is plotted ahead of time, many thefts in real life happen by chance. You lose your wallet, someone finds it and decides that becoming someone else is a good idea. There are a lot of ways for dishonest people to gain access to your sensitive information, so it is important to be cautious and prevent identity theft.
Steps to take to prevent identity theft
Stealing a person’s information online can be easy or it can be difficult – it’s up to you. If you use the same password for every website you’ve ever visited, if you always type in your password, and if your password consists of only numbers or only letters, then it may be very easy for someone to swipe your login and password information. Here’s how to fix it. Install an anti-virus program that detects malware. Next, use a different password for each site, and if you fear you might forget them, keep them written in a binder or a plain text document. Don’t label the document “passwords,” though. Now, each time you go to enter a password, open the plain text document and copy and paste your password. Many malware programs record keystrokes, which is one way thieves can steal your social security number, password, date of birth and more. Prevent identity theft by changing your password if you see any suspicious activity in any account. If you use public computers frequently, it may be a good idea to rotate passwords or change them every six months.
Keep your social security card locked up in a safe at home or a safety deposit box. You should only need the document for a few purposes, such as applying for a passport or when you start a new job. Never keep your social security card in your wallet because if you lose your wallet, someone can do just about anything they want with your card and driver’s license. Some companies require your social security number, but research the company or ask the representative why they need the number and how the company will use it. You can always refuse to give out the number on the phone and opt to do business in person as a way to prevent identity theft.
Take advantage of your free, annual credit report. The all 3 credit reports will list your credit history for the past seven years, so you will be able to see any new accounts, closed accounts or existing active accounts made in your name that could be suspicious. Identity theft can severely lower a credit score if the thief signs up for multiple credit cards. Each inquiry can lower a score, and then of course non-payment on accounts you didn’t know you had will plummet the score even lower.
Reporting identity theft
If you lose your wallet or if it is stolen, file a police report. This report will be used by your bank, insurance company, the credit bureaus and credit card companies as a reference when you alert them to the theft. Cancel or place holds on all debit and credit cards, and ask that your bank notify you and the police if they see any activity on your accounts