Imagine an apartment is rented in your name — by someone you’ve never met. This person also opens a new credit card account, sets up phone service, gets a car loan, and runs up medical bills. Then, when it comes time to pay for it all, you’re the person held responsible.
This lovely mess is the kind of thing that can happen after your identity has been stolen. And unfortunately, it happens a lot more often than you might think.
In fact, identity theft is one of the fastest-growing crimes in the country, according to the Social Security Administration. It starts when someone uses identifying information like your name, Social Security number, or credit card number without your permission, to commit fraud or other crimes. According to the Federal Trade Commission, as many as nine million Americans have their identities stolen each year.
The complicated fallout that results from identity theft can take months or longer to clean up. And for some people, the damage to their credit is never completely repaired.
How do you prevent identity theft? Be vigilant and err on the side of caution. Consider these suggestions:
- Never give out your credit card number over the phone to an unsolicited caller or on the Internet (unless it’s an encrypted, secure site).
- Don’t put outgoing mail, especially bill payments, in any unguarded mailboxes. Use United States Postal Service mailboxes instead, or drop off your mail inside a post office.
- Make sure nobody is standing right behind you when you use an ATM. He or she may be trying to photograph your card number and password with a cell phone. Always shield your hand and the screen, even if no one is right behind you.
- Minimize the number of identification and credit cards you carry with you. Store your Social Security card, birth certificate, and other critical documents in a safe deposit box.
- Shred all preapproved credit card offers, along with financial and billing statements, before throwing them in the trash or recycling bin.
If you think your identity has been stolen, call one of the three major credit reporting agencies: Experian, Equifax, and Transunion. They will flag your account so any business that wants to view your credit report must first verify your identity.
Also, contact your local police department. You’ll need a police report to pursue your case with creditors who’ve been victimized in your name. Be sure to give the police copies of all the documents that support your claim.
Of course, when it comes to identity theft, the best offense is a good defense. Take smart steps today so you don’t have to deal with the complications of identity theft tomorrow.
Principal Funds, Inc. is distributed by Principal Funds Distributor, Inc.