I remember my heart pounding as I looked at the return address on the envelope: Internal Revenue Service. It was June, and we did our taxes on time, they were approved, and our return wasn’t anything to write home about. In fact, it was barely enough for a meal for a family of five. So I couldn’t imagine what this could be about.
I ripped open the envelope like it contained food and I hadn’t eaten in weeks. I was starved to know what this correspondence could possibly hold. My eyes were bouncing all over the place, and I could barely read or comprehend what I was reading until I landed on:
“…we recently learned that your social security number (SSN) was used in an attempt to obtain a transcript of your tax account…”
My heart dropped. Someone out there had my SSN and was trying to get more information on me! A THIEF was attempting to make me the victim of identity theft. How did this happen?
This news was devastating to me. I worked in Banking for a long time, I’ve seen the havoc that identity theft has on people’s lives, and was always sure to be extra diligent when it came to protecting our family’s information. I thought I was pretty sufficient and knew how to avoid identity theft.
And yet, despite all the safeguarding I’ve done of my own SSN, I still became a victim.
Sometimes, regardless of how careful you are, your fate still remains in the hands of the people or organizations you give your information to. Widespread hacking and data breaches have made identity theft more commonplace in today’s society, but there are still steps you can take to ensure that your information isn’t compromised.
How to Avoid Identity Theft
Here are some simple steps you can take to avoid identity theft:
Safeguard your information.
Guard your SSN like it’s your life because in some ways, it is. Having bad credit can prevent you from getting a mortgage, loan, credit and/or a job. Be wary of who you give your information to and do not give it away needlessly.
Don’t answer personal questions over the phone.
Identity thieves are known to pose as businesses and/or the IRS and call victims in an attempt to get information. If someone claiming to be a business you work with calls and asks for your personal over the phone, DO NOT GIVE IT TO THEM. If they were indeed the said company, they would already have this information on hand and would not be calling you to retrieve it.
As a safety measure, some companies verify your information when you call them, which is fine- if YOU called THEM. Also, always verify the telephone number you’re calling before giving out personal information.
Monitor your credit report.
Did you know that you are entitled to one free credit report per year? You need to be checking that! This is one way you’ll find out if someone is using your credit. You can request one at AnnualCreditReport.com from all three credit reporting agencies.
DO NOT forget to check your children’s credit reports if you have reason to believe that their SSNs were compromised. Credit fraud with minor’s SSN is becoming a growing problem because it is often left unchecked for YEARS. Protect your children’s information also. (This requires additional steps, but is worth the effort- you can find additional information on this at Annual Credit Report).
Regularly Monitor your Credit and Banking Accounts.
One of the first signs of fraud is finding transactions on your accounts that you have not performed. Diligently review your statements for accuracy and contact your bank or creditors if you see activity that you did not perform. TIP: Thieves often start with small charges to see if the credit card or account is active. So question even the smallest of charges.
Photocopy Everything in Your Wallet.
Make copies of everything in your wallet (both sides) and store these copies in a safe place. In the event that you lose your wallet, you’ll have all of the information you need and who to contact. TIP: Never carry your SSN card or birth certificate in your wallet!!
File a Police Report.
Make sure to file a police report as soon as you realize your wallet or identity was stolen to establish a record to combat fraud.
Already a victim of Identity Theft?
Report the Identity Theft to the Federal Trade Commission.
Visit them online at https://www.identitytheft.gov/Steps
Contact the Credit Bureaus.
You only need to contact one of the credit bureaus, as the one you contact must contact the other two. Place a security freeze on your credit. Details on how to do this can be found on FTC’s site, or here are their websites:
- Equifax – www.equifax.com/CreditReportAssistance
- Experian – www.experian.com/fraud
- TransUnion – www.transunion.com/fraud
Contact the Social Security Administration.
Their Fraud Line is: 1-800-269-0271. Review your earnings through the SSN Administration to make sure that all the information they have is correct. Check out their Publication on identity theft.
Identity Theft Monitoring/Protection Services.
Before you enroll in an identity theft monitoring service or identity theft protection service, please visit the Federal Trade Commission’s AWESOME page on Identity Theft Protection Services. There, they outline all the services available and the pros and cons of each so that you can make a more informed decision before signing up.Here are some steps on how to avoid #IdentityTheft. Check it out: Click To Tweet
Avoiding Identity Theft Today
It’s becoming increasingly more difficult to protect yourself against identity theft due to data breaches. We’ve all seen major retailers and government agencies who have been hacked on the news. Don’t let this deter you from making sound choices to protect yourself, though.
Don’t make yourself an easy target and take steps to protect yourself to the best of your ability. For more information, I encourage you to check out: https://www.identitytheft.gov. There, you can find more steps to take to protect yourself and if you’ve already become a victim, they provide you with a plan on how to recover.
Have you become a victim of Identity Theft? What do you do to avoid Identity Theft? I’d love to hear your story/suggestions in the comments below.