It can ruin your credit and cause a lot of problems, but a lot of people don’t worry about identity theft until it happens. This is a topic KPRC 2 Investigator Amy Davis gets questions about.
The number one way to protect yourself from identity theft is to check what’s going on with your financial information and do it often.
1. Check your credit reports often
Right now, and for the rest of 2023, the three major credit reporting bureaus - Experian, Transunion and Equifax - offer free weekly credit report checks. You can easily do this on the website: Annualcreditreport.com. This is the only site authorized by the federal government. So be careful if you are just googling around for this information.
To request a report, just fill out a form, pick the reports you want, and request and review them online.
What to look for on a credit report
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau explains what you should check for when looking over your credit report. First, make sure it only contains information about you.
- Check addresses and open accounts. You can spot warning signs of ID theft like accounts or addresses you don’t recognize.
- Look for any mistakes. Examples are closed accounts reported as open, incorrect date of last payment, same debt listed more than once, and accounts with incorrect current balance.
- This could impact your overall credit score or future credit approvals.
- You’ll also be able to see anyone who has pulled your credit file.
You may not need to check these reports weekly, but waiting a year -like previously recommended - might be too long.
If you find errors, you should contact the credit reporting company that sent you the report and the creditor or company that provided the information. Your credit report includes directions about how to dispute inaccurate or incomplete information. You can use these sample letters.
2. Collect mail daily
Thieves also can reroute your mail by submitting change-of-address requests in your name, so keep track of expected mail that doesn’t arrive. In addition, put your mail on hold while you’re away.
3. Create different passwords for your accounts
4. Install antivirus software
Antivirus software can prevent hackers from accessing information on your computer and mobile devices. The FTC says you might be a victim of malware if your computer: slows down, crashes, or displays error messages, shows new, unexpected toolbars, changes your default web browser or your battery drains quickly.
5. Enable two-factor authentication on devices and accounts
Besides two-factor authentication, always use your credit card instead of your debit card. If hackers break into retail databases, debit cards give direct access to your banking account. A thief’s least favorite credit card is American Express because it asks for a zip code to finalize a transaction.
When making online purchases, double-check check the site is secure. If you don’t see HTTPS on the URL, then it shouldn’t be trusted.
6. Review credit card and bank statements regularly
It’s important to regularly review your credit card and bank statements because someone with your credit card number or bank account information could make small charges to see if they can get away with it. These transactions can easily slip through the cracks without you or your financial institution noticing them. Know your statement cycles and follow up with credit card companies and financial institutions if you don’t receive statements on time. Credit card fraud is the most common type of identity theft, based on FTC Consumer Sentinel Network statistics.
7. Opt out of getting preapproved credit card offers
Credit card companies often send pre-screened offers to open new accounts, and criminals can intercept these mailed or emailed offers and open accounts in your name. Shred these offers rather than throwing them in the trash. Your credit report doesn’t show the pre-screening that companies perform to give you these offers, so you might not realize that an offer has been stolen from your mail or email.
The safest way to avoid identity theft exposure from pre-screened credit card offers is to opt out of receiving them for five years or permanently through optoutprescreen.com (call 888-5OPTOUT), which is the official consumer credit reporting industry website.
8. Freeze your credit
When you freeze your credit file, no one can look at or request your credit report. Therefore, no one (including you) can open an account, apply for a loan, or get a new credit card while your credit is frozen. To freeze your credit, you must contact each of the three credit reporting agencies: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. The credit bureaus provide online, telephone, or mail-in options for freezing your account. They will also give you instructions on how you can thaw your credit file if you do need to open a line of credit or let someone check it. Credit freezes are free and won’t impact your credit score.