Protecting Yourself from Identity Theft

Rachel McCullough

Sep 3, 2021

There’s no two ways about it–identity theft stinks! Our data as consumers has been online for so long that it’s almost hard to find someone who hasn’t been impacted by identity theft. It’s a cumbersome mess to untangle, even though, in some cases, the process has become somewhat easier. Nevertheless, one of my dear friends was the victim of identity theft last week.

“Someone has taken unemployment in my name.” My heart started aching as I got the news via text. Another one popped up almost immediately, “My work informed me this morning. What should I do?” Springing into action, I began typing tips of where to start as fast as my fingers could go.

As a friend, I was happy to help her navigate this. It also dawned on me that everyone could use a refresher on ways to protect themselves and their family from identity theft. Here are some of the same tips I sent my friend to help ensure she’s better protected from having this occur again in the future.

1. Protect Your Passwords

This is one of the simplest things you can to do protect yourself. When we’re setting up accounts for clients, we see the same passwords being used across multiple accounts.

  • Change passwords every 90 days. Strong passwords use a combination of upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters.
  • Look into a reputable password manager, and, whenever possible, use two-factor authentication. Two-factor authentication sends a one-time code to your mobile number or email as a secondary way of identifying the user during login.
  • If you use a digital wallet on your phone or watch, make sure to password protect it and limit Bluetooth activity in public settings.

2. Signs Identity Theft has Occurred and How to Be Alerted

Identity thieves tend to open accounts, use credit cards or take loans in the stolen person’s name. However, the warning signs of identity theft might appear differently than you may think. If you notice something is out of place, make sure to address it right away.

  • Has a recent utility bill not been mailed to your house?
  • Did you see (or get) small, unusual charge occurred on your credit or debit card?
  • Did you get a bill for a loan you don’t recognize?
  • Did you receive an email stating your address was changed on your account?

Additionally, credit and debit companies offer alerts for unusual spending. They may contact you via text, email, push notification or call if they notice an unusual charge. Take advantage of these free services. Furthermore, check your statements monthly. If you see an unfamiliar charge, even for a small amount, dispute the claim. Often you can put a freeze on the card until you resolve the charge or dispute it with the company.

3. Freeze Credit Reports

If you suspect you were a victim of identity theft, consider freezing your credit reports with the major credit bureaus. To place a freeze, you will be asked for personal information: name, date of birth, social, and address. You can freeze your reports by going to the links below, or by calling.

  • Equifax — 1-800-349-9960
  • Experian — 1‑888‑397‑3742
  • TransUnion — 1-888-909-8872
  • Innovis — 1-800-540-2505 (this is a lesser-known credit bureau for utility companies)

Bonus Tip: Check Your Credit Report Once a Year

  • If you decide not to freeze, check your credit report at least once per year for any errors and dispute as soon as possible. One free credit report from each credit bureau can be received annually (A total of three per year from the major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion).

Keep in mind this freeze applies to credit inquiries you make as well. If you are purchasing a new car, applying for a new loan such as a mortgage or applying for a credit card, you will have to contact the credit bureau and unfreeze for a short period of time while the credit is being pulled. There is no fee to place a freeze or unfreeze your credit. It will also not impact your credit score.

4. Physically Limit Access to Personal Information

We give out our personal information far more often than we realize, and we now live in a world where people can access your data via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi without your knowledge.  Be sure to limit access to unwanted visitors at all entry points.

  • If a form requires your social security number, only use the last four digits. A doctor’s office or financial institution will need this information to setup your account for the first time; after that, they can pull you up with the last four digits. This limits how many pieces of paper your social security number is on.
  • Shred paper bills, mail and other documents with personal account numbers, date of birth, SSN or other personal information.
  • Limit Bluetooth and Wi-Fi on your personal devices when away from a secure connection, especially when traveling. Remember you can always toggle these on and off. By doing this you’re providing more protection for your devices, digital wallets, and email.

Bonus Tip: Notify Your Bank and Credit Card Company Prior to Travel

  • If you decide not to freeze, check your credit report at least once per year for any errors and dispute as soon as possible. One free credit report from each credit bureau can be received annually (A total of three per year from the major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion).

5. Watch for Phishing Attempts

Phishing is the fraudulent practice of sending emails or texts designed to look like they’re from reputable companies in order to trick individuals into revealing personal information, passwords or credit card numbers.

  • Phishing attempts usually have an urgency to them and include a link to click on. Don’t click on the link, report it as spam.
  • If you receive an email or phone call asking for personal information from an unknown source, mark it as spam or hang up.
  • If you’re unsure if an email is credible, a call to your financial institution can clear it up. Don’t call the number given in the email. Be sure to call the number from a recent statement or on the back of your credit or debit card. It’s better to double check with the most reliable source.

6. Consider Using a Monitoring Service

These companies monitor personally identifiable information in credit applications, public records, websites and look for unusual activity that could result in identity theft.

  • These companies usually charge a monthly fee and offer various types of identity monitoring services. They even offer a stolen funds reimbursement if identity theft occurs.

Additional TCI Resources

Cybersecurity Checklist

How to Respond to a Data Breach

If you have any additional questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to someone on your TCI team. We’ve all dealt with identity theft many times with clients. Our goal is to be a resource for you and make this as bearable as possible. If you’re a victim of identity theft, hopefully it’s a blip on the radar so you can get back to living your purpose-filled life – I know that’s what my friend is looking forward to these days.

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