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Identity Theft Help

Founded in 1951, the National Foundation for Credit Counseling is the largest serving nonprofit financial counseling organization. Find various topics in this blog, including personal finance, credit counseling, housing, budgeting and student loan help. Click here to speak with an NFCC-certified Consumer Credit Counselor.

By Ashley Hagelin

Nearly every day we hear about another identity theft scam, or get another phishing email trying to get our personal information so some con artist can help themselves to our money or credit. Technology has made our lives so much more convenient. However, as we enjoy the fruits of the information age our personal information is bouncing around everywhere. So how do we make sure that our information doesn’t get into the wrong hands? Here are some simple ways to protect yourself from being duped by the next scam, or the one after that, or the one after that…

Freeze Your Credit

Most states allow you to freeze your credit meaning that no one can take out new credit in your name. This is the BEST way to defend against someone using your identity to take out new credit in your name. Yes, your current credit will still be working, but no new credit can be issued to you unless you unfreeze your credit. There may be a fee of up to $10 per freeze/unfreeze transaction (but free to anyone who has been a victim of identity theft). This will take some extra planning on your part because you will need to remove the freeze if you plan to buy a new car, open a credit card, or take out a mortgage. Hopefully this won’t be a problem because these are purchases that should be well thought out…right?

Freezing your credit is a very important tool for protecting your credit, but it will not stop someone from using your identity to access accounts that you already have open. For more information about freezing your credit visit http://www.consumersunion.org/ or www.ftc.gov.

Get In The Habit

We are all so accustom to locking our cars and homes when we leave that we do it without thinking (example; locking the car with the keys still in it). We should look at our finances in the same way. Get in the habit of checking your accounts weekly if not daily. You can do this online or by phone. You should also be checking your credit regularly. I recommend that you pull your credit report at least once a year. AnnualCreditReport allows you to access a copy of your credit report from each of the three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and Transunion), once a year for free. If you are aware of the state of your personal finances at all times you will know immediately if something is wrong.

Don’t Give It Up

Don’t give out your personal or account information over the phone or by email. I know this seems so simple, but you would be amazed at how slick some of these scams can be. Your bank or credit card company will not call you and ask for personal information they would already have. The oh-so-simple-scam is to call or email you saying they are your bank and they have somehow lost your information or it has been compromised, they then ask you to verify your account information and personal information. These calls and emails can seem very legitimate, but they are not. Hang up and call your bank or company immediately to let them know that you have been contacted so they can warn other customers.

Shopping Online

It can be scary putting your credit card information out into cyberspace when shopping online so here are some things to keep in mind when shopping online.

  • Know who you are buying from, and use trusted and well known sites. If it looks hokey trust your instincts. Spoofed and fake website creators are becoming very innovative in making their sites look like commercial sites. Be very careful.
  • Look carefully at the address line, and make sure everything is spelled correctly. In addition, try clicking on the links and images to see where they take you.
  • Make sure it is a secure website: Look for the letter ‘S’ at the end of the standard http in the address line in either Internet Explorer or Firefox. A secure web address looks like https, where the ‘S’ represents Secure. When you go to pay for something the website should switch over to a secure website. Also, check for a yellow padlock or key icon on the webpage. This indicates a secure website as well. In Internet Explorer, the padlock or key appears to the right of the address box while in Firefox the padlock or key appears in the address line.
  • NEVER buy something from a spam/solicitation email.
  • Make sure you have up to date online security software on your computer.

Next Steps

Everyone makes a mistake once in a while, and can fall for a scammer’s con. I recommend calling your bank immediately and tell them what happened. They will most likely advise you to close your accounts and have you contact the police department as well as the fraud department of any of the 3 major credit bureaus to place a fraud alert on your file.

Ashley Hagelin is a Certified Financial Counselor and Reverse Mortgage Specialist with LSS Financial Counseling. LSS Financial Counseling is a member of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. To schedule an appointment with a certified financial counselor call 877.577.2227 or visit their website at ConquerYourDebt.org.

Views expressed are the personal views of the author, and do not represent the views of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, its employees, its members, or its clients.

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