One of the most common issues I resolve for clients concerns identity theft. In 2014, approximately 17.4 million consumers in the U.S. were victims of identity theft. The following tips can help you reduce your risk of becoming a victim:
1. Protect your Social Security number - With your name and social security number, an identity thief can open new credit and bank accounts, rent an apartment, or even get a job. Do not carry your social security card in your wallet. Keep your card in a safe place, along with any other cards that may list your social security number. Only share your number when absolutely necessary.
2. Avoid scammers and "phishing" attempts - Many scammers pretend to be banks, stores, or government agencies to gain access to your private information - a practice known as "phishing." Do not respond to requests to "verify your account number or password." Legitimate businesses do not request consumer information this way.
3. Check your credit report annually - You are entitled to a free credit report annually from all three credit bureaus through annualcreditreport.com. Review these reports to ensure there are no fraudulent accounts.
4. Review your statements - Open and review all credit card bills and bank statements. Check carefully for any unauthorized charges or withdrawals. If your bills don’t arrive on time, this may mean that someone changed your contact information to hide fraudulent charges. Report any suspicious activity to the bank or credit card company immediately.
5. Update your passwords - Use different passwords for each of your online accounts. Make sure your passwords contain a mix of letters, numbers, and symbols to increase their effectiveness. It is also important to avoid a password that includes your username, real name, or company name.
Sources: https://oag.ca.gov/idtheft/facts/top-ten; https://www.irs.gov/uac/Newsroom/Tips-for-Taxpayers,-Victims-about-Identity-Theft-and-Tax-Returns-2014 .