4 Simple Tips for Protecting Your Identity for Free
Identity theft has become an increasingly growing problem as the use of technology becomes more common among consumers and businesses. Included in this is the large number of data breaches that have occurred over the recent years, and are still ongoing, which have caused consumers billions of dollars of losses.
Fortunately, there are several free and low-cost steps you can take, such as identity monitoring, to help protect and manage your identity, and prevent others from stealing your personal information.
Sign up for identity monitoring services. Identity monitoring services notify you if your personal information is being used without your knowledge and approval, and in a way that would not show up on a credit report. Understand that credit monitoring only alerts you about activity on your credit report and not about actual identity theft occurring. For example, if someone uses your social security number to file tax returns or attempts to withdraw money from your bank account, credit monitoring would not notify you about this.
Review your account statements. Reviewing your account statements on a regular basis will let you see if there are any fraudulent charges on your accounts before they show up on your credit report. Be sure to review statements for your banks, credit cards, brokerages, and other accounts to make sure they are not being wrongly used.
Review your health insurance statements. It is important to review the Explanation of Benefits (EOB) statements from your health insurance provider to make sure there aren’t any treatments listed that you didn’t receive. If there is information in the EOB that you feel is inaccurate, contact your health insurance company so they can investigate.
Monitor your credit reports. Your credit reports could indicate if someone is using your personal information who shouldn’t be. Look to see if any new accounts have been added or if the balance shown for your accounts does not seem accurate. If any of the information appears to be inaccurate, file a case with the credit bureau. You can also place a credit freeze on your credit reports – this blocks others from accessing your credit report unless they have your permission, and ultimately could prevent a new account from being opened by someone who might be using your information.
If you think your identity has been stolen, there are reporting services and recovery plans available that will provide you with advice on what to do if you are impacted by a data breach; letters and forms to send to the credit bureaus, IRS, banks, etc.; and other services to help you prevent any other further damage. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has a free web site (https://www.identitytheft.gov/) where you can report identity theft and get a personalizes recovery plan.