Identity theft has become so common these days that it may not be a bad idea to check if your identity has been stolen without you noticing. If you suspect you’ve been put at risk, here are a few things you can do to check if you’re a victim of identity theft for free:
- Get Up To Speed on Your Credit Reports:
You can get a free copy of your credit report from the credit bureaus every 12 months via AnnualCreditReport.com. You can then supplement that by signing up for a free credit report and score that you can check whenever you like.
- Secure Your Credit Files By Either:
- Credit locks and credit monitoring — this is less of a hassle to lift but might carry a monthly fee, which adds up.
- A credit freeze — this is the best protection that comes for free, but you’ll have to lift the freeze when you want to apply for credit.
- Fraud alert — this comes for free but offers lower protection, it’s easy to implement since you only have to call one bureau to alert all three.
- Watch Your Accounts:
Monitor your credit card and bank statements for any activity that you don’t recognize; you can also set up text alerts, so you know when charges are made on your cards. You should also watch your free credit score and credit report for the activity you aren’t responsible for.
If you suspect that your personal information has been used fraudulently, you can take further steps depending on the type of information it was:
- Social Security number
- Secure your account if you haven’t already
- Check for damage — review your credit reports for fraudulent accounts. Then review your work history at mySocialSecurity and report errors. If you see fraudulent activity, create an identity theft report with the Federal Trade Commission, then use it to file a report with your local police. Save the FTC and police report numbers to use in repairing the damage.
- Repair the damage — close all fraudulent accounts and use the credit bureaus’ dispute process to remove fraudulent accounts and charges from your reports.
- Remain vigilant — file your taxes as early as possible to get ahead of any scammers attempting to hijack your refund. You should also pay attention to signs someone has gotten medical benefits using your information.
If you want to avoid identity theft, here are some ways you can stop criminals from using your personal information:
- Debit or credit card number:
Ask the card issuer or bank to cancel the card. Report any misuse and dispute fraudulent charges to get them off your credit reports. You should also remember to change any automatic payments that were on the old card.
- Passwords or login information:
Change your password and ask the company if it’s possible to change your username. If you can’t log in, contact the company about shutting down the account. Change the password on any other site that uses the same password. If the site held your financial or credit info, watch out for fraudulent charges.
- Financial account information
Contact credit union, the bank, or other financial institution to close the account and open a new one. Observe your accounts, and if you see suspicious activity, alert the institution’s fraud department. Remember to update any automatic payments from the old account.