The Federal Trade Commission reported a 47 percent year on year increase in identity theft complaints from 2014 to 2015. Identity theft remains among the top scams consumers report to the Commission. These facts send a clear message: Identity theft is a common and growing problem. Here are six recommended options to enhance the security of your personal information:
- Check your credit report annually. You are entitled to a free credit report every 12 months from each of the three credit reporting bureaus, including Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Credit reports can be obtained from annualcreditreport.com.
- Monitor your banking and credit accounts frequently.
- Monitor the explanation of benefits statements you receive from health insurance providers. If you notice treatments you never received, contact your insurer and medical providers.
- Take the time to shred and properly dispose of documents with sensitive information, including junk mail. Choose to opt-out of preapproved credit offers and mailing lists by visiting optoutprescreen.com.
- If you believe you are a victim of identity theft, place either a fraud alert or credit freeze on your credit report. A fraud alert is effective for 90 days and signals to credit grantors that you potentially have been a victim of suspicious activity. A credit freeze prevents new accounts from being opened in your name and remains until you remove it. Steps to place an alert or freeze can be found at the Federal Trade Commission.
- Access the government’s free resource for reporting and recovering from identity theft at IdentityTheft.gov. The website provides a personal recovery plan tailored to your specific needs, and provides step-by-step guidance including pre-filled letters, affidavits and forms.
If you prefer to delegate this responsibility, Consumer Affairs provides a list of reputable identity theft protection service companies. When evaluating companies, look for services that are not available through self-monitoring. Examples include unlimited access to credit reports and scores beyond the free annual credit report to which you’re entitled, identity recovery assistance, and identity theft insurance.
Identity theft protection services cannot prevent your identity from being stolen. Ultimately, no one can deliver a foolproof service. By focusing on what you can control, such as the six recommended bullets above, it is less likely you’ll become a risk of identity theft.