Identity Theft: What to Watch for and How to Protect Yourself
We all have information we want to keep private—from passwords to Social Security numbers. Identity theft happens when someone steals and uses your personal information to open new accounts, make purchases or get a tax refund. Identity theft can feel very violating, but luckily there are some things you can do to stop it in its tracks.
Signs of identity theft
You may not know what identity theft looks like. Here are some of the most common signs of identity theft you should be aware of:
- Withdrawals from your bank account you didn’t authorize
- You stop receiving bills or other mail
- Debt collectors call about debts that aren’t yours
- You find unfamiliar accounts or charges on your credit report
If you notice any of these signs, you could be the victim of identity theft and should take immediate action.
Consider a credit freeze
A credit freeze will make it harder for someone to open a new account in your name. If you place a freeze on your credit, be ready to take a few extra steps the next time you apply for any service that requires a credit check.
Login to your online accounts and change your password and username, if possible. Remember to choose passwords that aren’t easy to guess, and once you change your passwords, never share them with anyone else.
Contact your credit card companies to cancel your cards and get new ones. Cut up and securely dispose of your credit cards once your new ones arrive. Be sure you immediately sign the back of your cards when they come in the mail.
Close bank accounts
If your bank information was exposed, contact your bank to close your account and open a new one. If you have automatic payments set up, update them with your new bank account information.
Nobody wants to sit around waiting for identity theft to happen before they act. You can be proactive in protecting yourself from identity theft before it happens by:
- Checking your credit card and bank statements regularly for unusual activity.
- Knowing when to expect bills in the mail so if one doesn’t show up when you expect it to, you can look into it.
- Shredding documents with personal and financial information.
- Reviewing your credit report at least once a year.
Remember, identity theft could happen to even the most careful person. The key is to be diligent in monitoring your accounts and acting as soon as you notice something suspicious.