Identity theft wreaks havoc in the lives of its victims, and it can take years to undo its damage. Preventing identity theft is easier now due to federal and state laws. However, it’s up to you to keep your eye out for fraud and put a stop to it.
Put a Security Flag or Freeze on Your Credit Reports
If you are the victim of identity theft or suspect that your personal information is in the hands of an identity thief, you can contact credit bureaus and ask that they place a security flag, or a security freeze, on your account. A security flag prevents creditors and potential creditors from opening up accounts in your name, or raising credit limits, unless they call you or take other steps to verify that you requested credit. A security freeze prevents any creditor that you do not currently work with from viewing your credit report. It does not, however, prevent current creditors or their collection agencies from accessing your credit information.
Monitoring One Credit Report Isn’t Enough
Different creditors report to different credit bureaus. If an identity thief used your information to open a line of credit with a company that only reports to one or two credit bureaus, and you only monitor your reports from one bureau, you won’t know of the theft until you end up getting turned down for credit. Check out all three reports regularly to make sure that they contain accurate information. You can get one free report every 12 months from each credit bureau by visiting annualcreditreport.com.
Not all Identity Theft is Financial
While financial identity theft gets the most media attention, identity thieves exploit your personal information in other ways. Medical identity thieves use your identity and insurance information to get medical care. Medical identity theft is particularly dangerous because there is a risk of inaccurate medical information entering your medical files, resulting in inappropriate medical treatment. You can catch medical identity theft in its early stages by paying close attention to the “explanation of benefits” forms sent to you by your insurance company. Better yet, register on your insurance company’s website so you can monitor insurance claims online. Another type of identity theft is criminal identity theft, in which a criminal gives law enforcement your personal information and you a criminal record. This is a more difficult type of identity theft to track and remedy, though some states now issue “passports” that identity-theft victims can present to law enforcement if detained.