A Few Easy Steps Can Help Protect Against Identity Theft Damage

by ReShelle Barrett, CFP®
Senior Vice President

Once upon a time, we all thought we were safe by not putting personal information on the internet. That meant avoiding online shopping, electronic banking, or even communicating on social websites. Nowadays, if you basically breathe, you are exposed to identity thieves around the world. Even if you don’t put your information out there, know it’s out there. The following are some suggestions to help protect your hard-earned money, credit and identity:

Make a photocopy of everything in your wallet (both sides of cards, license, etc.). You will not only know everything that’s in there, but will also have account numbers, credit card company phone numbers and your driver’s license number. If you’re traveling abroad, be sure to copy your passport and keep all those copies in your carry-on bag for more protection and ease of access.

Don’t have your phone number printed on your personal checks. If you must have a phone number, consider using a work number. If you have a P.O. Box then use that instead of a home address. Never have your social security number printed on checks, or even written on the note line. If you must write it anywhere, use the last four digits only.

Do not write your credit card account number on the note line of a check either. Here you can also use the last four or five digits as the credit card company already has the full number.

Rather than sign the back of your credit card, write “Photo ID Required”. This might be a bit of a pain for you when you use the card since you will have to show your driver’s license but will be worth it if the card is stolen.

Check your credit card and bank information regularly. I personally have made it a priority to check my own transactions virtually every business day. It only takes about 3 minutes and I can do it while I’m having my morning coffee. If you don’t have online access, use telephone access at least weekly. Don’t wait to get your monthly statement as the brunt of the damage can be done in as little as a few days or even less.

If your wallet is stolen or you suspect identity theft, file a police report immediately. This proves to credit providers you were diligent and it will serve as a first step in an investigation if one is needed.

Contact your bank and investment advisor immediately. Once thieves have some basic information about you, they know how to create fake wire transfer requests. Most financial organizations now require an original signature and/or verbal verification before authorizing the transfer of monies to another account. This again can be a little bit of a hassle and it may take an extra day or two to get your money, but it will help prevent your bank and investment accounts from being drained – both of which are virtually are impossible to recover.

Call the three national credit card reporting organizations immediately to place a fraud alert on your name. It’s also important to call the social security fraud line. This will help protect against thieves opening new credit lines with your name and social security number. Once notified, the alert means any company that checks your credit will know your information has been stolen and they will need to contact you by phone to authorize new credit.

Should you be part of a data breach (there’s no hiding from those these days!), take advantage of the one year free credit reporting.

The following are important phone numbers to keep handy:
Equifax: 1-800-525-6285
Experian: 1-888-397-3742
TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289
Social Security Administration Fraud Line: 1-800-269-0271

It’s always good to be prudent. And of course, feel free to share this information freely.