We recently received a question via Facebook.
I feel my personal information may have been compromised by a coworker this week. Do you have any recommendations, for a credit alert company? Please let me know, as soon as possible. Thank You.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, nearly 9.9 million people a year, including this Debt Free Diva, are victims of identity theft. In my case, one instance was a family member misusing my credit. The other two were perfect strangers. In each case, I’ve been able to restore any damage to my credit or missing funds from a bank account. However, the frustration of dealing with each violation leaves a lasting impact. One must be diligent to protect yourself from others who would seek to do you harm. I’ve learned the following from my ordeal and don’t mind sharing.
If you think your identify has been compromised, take the following steps to restore your financial integrity.
- File a police report. In the case of the family member, I decided not to involve the police. However, I was routinely asked for a police report during the negotiations with the companies regarding the disputed charges. In 32% of ID theft cases, a relative is involved. It sucks, but you need to protect your financial details from those closest to you. Moving forward, I will file a police report and let the thieves deal with any consequences.
- Contact each company involved in the fraud. You can initiate the restoration process by contacting the fraud department of each company. Take detailed notes, including dates, times, names and employee ID of each conversation. Ask for supervisors if you feel the conversation is not productive. Make sure to follow up consistently to ensure your case receives the necessary attention. In one case, a rep closed my file incorrectly without contacting me. Had I not been diligent, the company would have no idea that I was still waiting on a resolution.
- Add fraud alert to each credit report. While this isn’t a panacea (I was victimized with the fraud alert in place), you have more leverage with the reporting bureau. This service is free and can often be setup online.
- Close any compromised accounts. Generally companies have initiated this process for me. However, make sure in your case. Yes, there is a headache associated with updating every service connected to the closed account. However, you want to cut off any future access to your information and/or money immediately.
- Check your credit reports regularly. You can request one free credit report from each of the three agencies every year. Visit annualcreditreport.com. Reviewing your credit report will help you identify any fraudulent information.
- Shred old financial documents. A $20 shredder can remove you from the easy target list. Discard junk mail or documents with personal information properly to make them less useful for dumpster divers.
There are also steps you can take to minimize the risk of being victimized.
- Do not leave your financial information in plain view. Protect your information from the prying eyes of friends, relatives, roommates or children. It’s also a good idea not to travel with your Social Security Card.
- Do not share personal information via social networks. Birthdates, pet names, or mother’s maiden names can be used to fool customer service reps. Be cautious about the details you provide to acquaintances from 20 years ago.
- Use strong passwords. Vary your passwords for financially sensitive sites. Avoid dictionary words and improve your password strength by including capital letters, numbers, and special characters.
- Be cautious when using public access. Using public Internet access can give hackers easier access as your connection is not secure. Avoid accessing your banking and personal information sites while on public lines.
- Lock your mobile devices. If you have mobile access to financial sites, password protect your devices today. According to an article in the USA today, $7 million in phones are lost every day!
Even the most responsible people may still be victimized by this fast growing crime trend. We should still do our part to protect ourselves from those who seek to do illicit things with our financial information. Let us know if you have any other tips to protect yourself from identify thieves.