Posted on March 6th, 2013
Up to this point, all of our National Consumer Protection Week blog posts here at the Credit Karma Blog have covered ways to help protect you. First, we mentioned some ways to keep your money safe. Then, we discussed how to spot and avoid credit repair scams. Finally, we shared some good ways to protect your credit.
This post is going to be a little different. And we sincerely hope you won’t need to read it, because today we’re going to talk about what to do if you’re a victim of identity theft.
If you’re experiencing identity theft, the best advice we can give is to work quickly. The quicker you work to remedy the situation, the better.
It’s possible your identity has been stolen and you don’t even know about it. So we’re first going to go over some ways to tell if you’re a victim of identity theft. Then, we’ll discuss the steps you need to take to prevent further abuse.
How to Tell if You’re a Victim of Identity Theft
There are usually some telltale warning signs that your identity has been stolen. Watch out for the following red flags:
- You see new accounts that you don’t recognize on your credit report. Thieves often will try to apply for credit in your name. When they do, those new accounts will show up on your credit report.
- You receive calls from collection agencies about loans you don’t know about. After these thieves open up new accounts and “you” fail to pay off those loans, they are sold to collection agencies who will try to collect the unpaid money from you.
- You spot unexplained withdrawals and charges on your statements. If your money is mysteriously disappearing or you are being charged for items that you’re not buying, it’s possible thieves are taking money from your account or making purchases using your credit cards.
- You aren’t receiving your bills, statements, or other important mail. Sometimes, thieves will call up your bank, credit card company, or lender to change your mailing address so you won’t find out about the unexplained withdrawals and charges on your statements.
What to do if You’re a Victim of Identity Theft
As mentioned before, the best thing you can do in this situation is to act quickly to prevent further abuse by identity thieves. Follow these steps as soon as possible:
- Place a fraud alert on your credit report. Fraud alerts are basically flags that tell creditors to contact you before any new accounts are opened in your name or any changes are made to your existing accounts. Contact one of the three major bureaus (Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion) and tell them you’d like to put a fraud alert on your report. Once you contact one of the bureaus, they are obligated to contact the other two bureaus to place the alert on your file.You can contact the bureaus here:
- Equifax: Online or by calling 1-800-525-6285
- Experian: Online or by calling 1-888-397-3742
- TransUnion: By calling 1-800-680-7289
Bottom Line: Identity theft is a terrible crime that causes considerable stress, time, and financial trouble to more than 12 million Americans a year. Don’t let it happen to you! Take steps to protect your credit and you should be fine.
Jenna Lee helps manage the social media channels and blog at Credit Karma. Although her specialty lies in creating witty post-it notes, she also enjoys sharing all the financial information she’s learned since joining Credit Karma in February 2012. When she’s not working, you can probably find her trying out a new dessert recipe or learning/perfecting any musical instrument she can get her hands on. She may or may not have created a Twitter specifically to put in this byline. Say “hi” @leejennaa!
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Posted on March 5th, 2013
So far for National Consumer Protection Week we’ve covered 4 Ways to Keep Your Money Safe and How to Spot and Avoid Credit Repair Scams. Today we’re talking about what you can do to protect your credit from things like fraud and errors. Read on for five of our best tips.
Buy a shredder and shred any and all documents that contain your personal information, especially if you’re throwing them into publicly accessible trash bins. It’s unpleasant to think of someone going through the trash or recycling bin, but this is one strategy identity thieves can use to access your information. Shred junk mail, old credit cards, receipts and any old forms you’ve filled out. Make sure to do the same with documents that contain your kids’ personal information, too.
Exercise your free credit report rights.
This should be a no-brainer. We’ve talked many times about how you are entitled to a free copy of your credit report from each of the three credit bureaus once a year. Don’t skip this all-important step in keeping your credit safe. If you’ve never checked your credit reports, I recommend getting all three this first time. Head to AnnualCreditReport.com to do so. Check through all three reports and make sure to dispute any errors.
If you’re used to checking your reports once a year, spread out your three reports over the year so that you’re checking a report from one of the bureaus every four months.
Stay on top of it: Put a reminder on a calendar, whether physical or digital, so that you remember to check your reports when it’s time.
Monitor your credit report.
Since you can only get one free credit report from the bureaus each year, have an ongoing back-up plan. Make sure you’re monitoring your credit for free with Credit Karma and you’ll get email alerts when something important changes in your TransUnion credit report. You can also get alerts straight to your phone with the Credit Karma Mobile (free for iPhone and Android).
Stay on top of it: Each time you receive an alert, reconcile it quickly—don’t wait. If you’re notified that there’s a new hard inquiry on your credit, double check that it’s one you recognize.
Put a fraud alert on your credit reports.
A fraud alert tells potential lenders and creditors that they have to verify your identification by contacting you before extending a credit line or loan in your name. If someone else attempts to open a credit card with your personal information, a fraud alert should thwart him from doing so. A fraud alert is really best for people who have already been victims of identity theft or who are going on active military duty. For more information read What Is a Fraud Alert?
Stay on top of it: If you place a fraud alert with one of the credit bureaus, that bureau is required to tell the other two bureaus to put an alert on your file, too. In other words, you only need to place an alert with one bureau.
Keep your information safe.
Last week we talked about sticking with trusted sites and vendors when you’re shopping online to protect your account numbers. The same goes for your credit. If you’re required to enter your social security number to register for a service on the internet, make sure a few things are true:
- The form for entering your personal information is secured. Look for the “https” at the beginning of the address or a lock icon in the browser address bar.
- The site is certified by TRUSTe or another trusted company that verifies site security. You can usually find icons at the bottom of a webpage indicating what type of certificates the site has.
- Other people trust the site. Take some time to do a quick online search for reviews and complaints before entering all of your information in a sign-up for, particularly your social security number.
Bottom Line: I’m not encouraging paranoia here, just a healthy sense of awareness. If you’re aware, you likely won’t be a victim. Put these strategies into practice and keep your credit yours.
Bethy Hardeman is the Social Media Manager and Writer at Credit Karma, where she’s been since February 2011. When she’s not writing about credit and finance all over the web, you can find her playing her guitar, catching the latest movie, training for her next race or just exploring the city of San Francisco. Say “Hi” on Twitter: @bhardeman.
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