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How to Spot Identity Theft and Keep Your Personal Information Safe

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Spot identity theft early can lessen financial stress from theft and help you resolve issues sooner.

From the FTC, “Protecting your personal information can help reduce your risk of identity theft. There are four main ways to do it: know who you share information with; store and dispose of your personal information securely, especially your Social Security number; ask questions before deciding to share your personal information, and maintain appropriate security on your computers and other electronic devices.”

The best way to spot identity theft is to read your statements from credit card companies, banks, and credit unions, and to routinely check your credit reports for suspicious activity.

Spot Identity Theft Early

Review financial accounts and billing statements

Look closely for charges you did not make. Even a small charge can be a danger sign. Thieves sometimes will make a small debit against your checking account and then return to take much more if the small debit goes unnoticed.

Request credit reports

Review your free credit reports from each of the three major credit bureaus. If an identity thief is opening financial accounts in your name, these accounts may show up on your credit report. Look for inquiries from companies you’ve never contacted, accounts you didn’t open, and wrong amounts on your accounts. Also be sure your personal information – like your Social Security number, address, name or initials, and employers – is correct.

Don’t ignore bills from people you don’t know

A bill on a debt you never borrowed may be an indication that someone else has opened an account in your name. Contact the creditor to find out.

Keep Your Personal Information Safe

Identity thieves continue to find new ways to steal your personal information in addition to using some old tricks that still work. It’s important to know the tactics used by identity thieves so you can protect yourself.

Your personal information can be stolen through the following methods:

  • family members using your personal information to open accounts without your knowledge or consent.
  • phishing which is the attempt to get your personal or financial information by responding to internet pop-ups or email spam.
  • stealing your wallet or purse.
  • vhishing which is the attempt to get your personal and financial information using the telephone.
  • stealing your mail that may include pre-approved credit card offers.
  • filling out a change of address form and collecting your mail.
  • looking over your shoulder while you take money out of an ATM.
  • creating fake websites requiring you to enter your personal information.
  • fake job offers that require you to complete detailed information used to steal your identity.
  • setting up wifi hot spots that allow thieves to peak into your connected mobile device.
  • using credit card and debit card skimmers that copy the information found on the magnetic stripe of your card.

Additionally, identity thieves can steal your information by hacking into businesses that store your personal information such as:

  • A data breach of a retailer, university, or employer database.
  • Stolen from doctor’s offices.

Protect your identity and limit the information you share with organizations. Always ask what is the purpose of the request with any persons or organization requesting detailed personal and financial information.

If your identity is stolen, read how to respond when you’re a victim of identity theft. The Federal Trade Commission has a great ID Theft Protection Resource to inform and provide information on what to do when ID theft happens.

Jason Vitug

Jason is the founder of phroogal, creator of the award winning project Road to Financial Wellness, and author of the bestseller and New York Times reviewed book, You Only Live Once: The Roadmap to Financial Wellness and a Purposeful Life.

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