How to protect yourself from identity theft
Your personal identity is one of your most valuable assets, and it is important to be proactive when it comes to defending yourself against identity theft. Identity theft occurs when an individual uses another's name, address, Social Security number, or other identifying information with the intent to commit fraud. Once they have your personal information, they can drain your bank account, make charges to your existing credit cards or open new credit cards, open new utility accounts or even create fraudulent charges on your health insurance.
Steps to protect
- Don't give out personal information. Never give out account numbers or personal information over the phone unless you have initiated the call. Never give out account numbers or any personal information in response to an unsolicited email request.
- Destroy sensitive documents. Shred account statements, credit card offers and credit card receipts that contain personal information before discarding them.
- Keep your Social Security card in a safe place. Never carry it on your person or in your wallet unless you need it that day.
- Sign your cards. Only carry necessary credit cards and make sure they are all signed.
- Stay organized. Make a list of all your card numbers and issuer contact information to make it easier to report cards lost or stolen. Keep the list in a safe place; do not carry it with you.
- Split up important information. Avoid keeping your credit and debit cards, Social Security card, birth certificate and passport all together. Carry only what you will be using.
- Think twice about mail. Avoid leaving outbound mail in an open or unlocked mailbox where it can easily be taken.
- Use smart passwords. When creating passwords and PINs, avoid the use of the last four digits of Social Security numbers, birth dates, middle names, pet's names, consecutive numbers or anything else that could easily be discovered by thieves.
- Reduce the amount of preapproved offers you receive. Remove your name from the marketing lists of the three credit reporting bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. This will limit the number of preapproved offers of credit sent to you. For more information or to remove your name, visit Opt Out Prescreen or call 888-567-8688.
Monitoring for identity theft
It's always a good idea to request copies of your credit reports from all three major credit bureaus once a year and review them carefully. You can request a free credit report once every 12 months from each of the nationwide consumer credit reporting companies – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – online at Annual Credit Report or by calling 877-322-8228.
As a benefit of membership in Thrivent Financial, you have access to a free period of an Identity Theft Monitoring program offered by Thrivent Financial.
If your identity is stolen
In the unfortunate event that you are a victim of identity theft, here are some steps you should take:
- Contact the fraud division of the three major credit reporting agencies. The agencies will provide free copies of credit reports to victims to review and dispute any content.
- Request a "fraud alert". This alert will warn lenders to be especially careful in authenticating the identity of anyone claiming to be you, and to contact you before processing any request for credit.
- Contact each credit grantor who has allowed a fraudulent account. The grantor should close the account and provide written verification that it will be removed from your credit file. If you open new accounts, a unique password should be established for identification purposes.
- Contact your financial institution's fraud department. Make them aware of the incident.
- File a report with your local police department. Be sure to get the report number and a copy of the report. Credit card companies, financial institutions and credit reporting agencies might require you to show a copy of a police report to support your claim that a crime was committed.
- Report the crime to the Federal Trade Commission online, or call the Identity Theft Toll-Free Hotline at 877-IDTHEFT (877-438-4338). This is the central point of contact within the federal government for reporting incidents of identity theft.
- Call the Social Security Administration, Office of the Inspector General's Fraud Hotline at 800-269-0271 or visit them online at Social Security Administration if you know or suspect your social security number has been compromised.
- Visit the IRS - Taxpayer Guide to Identity Theft if you know or suspect you are a victim of tax-related identity theft to determine if you need to complete an Identity Theft Affidavit.
- Keep a log of all conversations and steps taken. It is extremely important to document all contact names, dates, times and phone numbers.
- Keep track of expenses for any mailings, stamps, certified mail or other costs associated with restoring your identity.
- Send correspondence by certified mail, return receipt requested. The number one excuse used by companies to deny any responsibility is, "We never received it."