Becoming the victim of identity theft is one of most people’s worst nightmares. Therefore, discovering this scam as soon as possible is essential to avoiding large financial losses and avoiding long-term impacts on your credit.
Even though identity theft is highly prevalent, many people don’t know they’ve become victims of this scam. We’ll explain how to find out if you’re a victim and the steps you should take after discovering to help ensure the timely restoration of your credit in the event you are.
You should monitor your financial reports and information closely to look out for identity theft. Here are some red flags that something isn’t right.
- You see unknown charges on your credit card bill. Minor discrepancies can be a sign of fraud. If you don’t remember spending that amount at a retailer, go back to your receipts to check.
- You stop receiving credit card bills by mail or email. If you’ve selected paperless billing, you’re probably not accustomed to getting paper credit card statements. What you might not know is that scam artists sometimes change the billing address for credit cards to learn more about you to steal your identity.
- You notice significant changes in your credit score. Large jumps should always be alarming in either direction.
- Your tax return is rejected. One way scammers use your identity is to file a fraudulent tax return to claim your tax refund. A major sign of this is if your tax filing is rejected, which can be a sign that someone else filed a return under your name.
- Credit card companies or banks deny you a line of credit, yet you have good credit. This could be a sign that someone has taken out a line of credit in your name or that you now have too many lines of credit due to the fraud.
- Your credit report shows a new line of credit you didn’t open. Fraudsters that get access to your personal information open a new line of credit against you and try to max out those credit cards before you discover the fraud.
- You’re charged for medical visits and procedures you didn’t undergo. Another way that people use your identity is to get access to your health benefits. They pose as you to get a procedure or medical care. Then you get mailed a bill or denied coverage due to outstanding bills you didn’t know you had.
- You start getting calls from debt collectors about accounts you have no knowledge of. In some cases, people don’t know about ID theft until much too late when the credit card company or bank turns over your information to debt collectors. That’s why it’s so important to monitor your credit carefully and set up alerts on your credit report to avoid unauthorized lines of credit.
If you experience any of the red flags listed above, you should act immediately to stop the fraud. Here’s a look at the steps you should take to avoid financial impacts and restore your credit.
- Contact the fraud department for companies where the fraud occurred. Explain that you’re the victim of ID theft and that you need to close the account immediately. Ask for a letter confirming that the fraudulent account is now closed and that you aren’t liable for the charges. You’ll also want confirmation that the account won’t show up on your credit report.
- Report the fraud to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Provide as much detail as you can to help the FTC locate and prosecute the individual who committed the fraudulent acts.
- File a local police report. Take a copy of your FTC ID theft report with you as well as proof of your identity and address. Explain that someone stole your identity and request that they file a report about it. Ask for a copy of the report for your records.
- Contact the three credit bureaus explaining that you were the victim of fraud and need to have items removed from your credit report. The FTC provides this helpful example letter and the contact information for the credit bureaus to make things simple.
- Change your usernames and passwords for sensitive accounts. Go through and carefully change this information for your bank accounts, loans, mortgage, and any other sensitive accounts you want to avoid someone stealing. You don’t know just how much information the scammer has about you to continue the fraud.
Many people don’t give much thought to protecting their identity until they’ve been a victim of a breach or ID theft. But there are little things you can do every day to prevent such events from happening.
The everyday decisions you make impact how easy it is for scammers or hackers to steal your personal data. Start employing these best practices to protect and secure your data now.
You are probably aware that having a secure password that is more complicated than “Password123” is essential. But even with a very secure password, you could become the victim of ID theft if you use the same password for everything and don’t change that password often enough.
Make your passwords long, with special characters and numerals but also be sure you’re changing those passwords every six months to a year at the maximum.
Just like passwords, usernames can be information that hackers use to get access to your data. Changing your usernames and using different ones for different accounts is smart.
If you have the option, it’s best to avoid using your email address as your username. Some accounts still require that you use your email address as your username, which is why it’s essential to have very secure passwords. But consider that your email address is easily sourced information about you, just like a phone number or your first and last name. So when you can, avoid it as a username.
It’s time for a social media profile audit. You might not realize that you’re sharing large amounts of personal information on your social media profiles, including your birthday and personal interests. The more information that scammers can find about you, the easier it is for them to steal your identity.
For example, your love for Taylor Swift could help them guess your passwords of #TSwift4Life. Or providing easy access to a headshot of you from your profile picture can make it simpler to create a false ID that the scammer can use to set up accounts or loans in your name.
Hide all personal data that you can on these platforms. Ideally, you don’t even want friends of friends to be able to see this information because you just never know how secure their privacy settings and passwords are. If they become a victim of a breach or identity theft, their social media profile could be vulnerable, leaving yours vulnerable as well.
Thanks to technology, checking bank statements and credit cards is straightforward. Today, you can carry around those statements on your smartphone. And because it’s so simple, it’s wise to monitor these accounts daily or at least several times a week.
This will allow you to spot fraud quickly. Add the practice to your daily routine, such as something you do first thing in the morning or before you begin your evening routines.
Sign up for fraud alerts on all accounts. While this might seem annoying, you’ll need to confirm those transactions to avoid an account shutdown, if it catches fraud immediately, it will be worth it.
Many financial companies such as credit card issuers and mortgage lenders provide a monthly FICO credit score now. Don’t ignore those emails and notifications you get about your credit score. Take a few seconds to review the score to check for any major changes.
If your credit suddenly plummets, you should investigate why.
As part of the credit report, you can see open lines of credit. Make sure you don’t have any new ones that you aren’t aware of. You can also visit credit.com every 14 days to see your free credit score, or visit annualcreditreport.com to request a free copy.
If you’re not planning on opening any new lines of credit in the near future, you may want to consider a credit freeze.
This makes it so that no organization can do a credit check on you until you remove the freeze. Just be sure that you unfreeze your credit before you go car shopping or co-sign a college loan for your child. You won’t be able to complete these activities until you unfreeze your credit.
Many public Wi-Fi networks are not secure. So when you use these networks and access your bank account or pay bills, scam artists can see your private information fairly easily.
Do all sensitive work on a private network. Don’t even online shop when you’re on a public network because your credit card data could be at risk.
Don’t allow your computer or accounts to remember you.
Many online accounts have a box you can check to remember you, or your browser might come up with a message asking if you want it to remember your password. Always say no to these conveniences.
If your device gets into the wrong hands, the individual could have full access to private account information. While it might seem annoying to type your username and password regularly, it’s much safer to do so.
The more data about yourself and your habits that you share, the more fuel you give scammers to steal your identity. Go through your mobile apps and see where location services are turned on. Turn it off for all apps where it isn’t essential and change the settings to only while in use for apps that require the location services.
When you shop online, even from your laptop or computer, don’t allow websites to use your location. This data allows people to identify you and your habits.
You don’t really need to share information about your vacation in real-time on social media. It’s much smarter to wait to share any photos or information until your return.
When you show where you are in real-time, you help scammers identify recent credit card transactions and other data points that they could use against you.
If you feel compelled to share those pictures, wait a few days until you return home to avoid providing too much information.
Protecting yourself against identity theft is crucial. Checking your bank accounts and credit report regularly can help you recognize if you have been a victim. Also, be aware of the information websites garner from you, as that information could be used by criminals to exploit you and steal your identity. In today’s technological landscape identity thieves are getting more creative, so be sure to protect yourself.
We’re here as a resource. Sunset Finance offers tips and insights into protecting your identity and managing your finances. Contact us for more information.
Fraudsters target children’s identities as an easy way to take out loans because the fraud often goes undetected for many years.
Children’s identities are highly vulnerable to attacks since they often have no credit reporting until later in life. Many parents don’t check their child’s credit reports regularly, meaning fraud goes undetected year after year.
But if your child doesn’t have a credit report yet and isn’t 18 years of age, wouldn’t it be challenging for a fraudster to take out a loan in their name?
In these cases, these identity thieves use what’s known as “synthetic identity theft.” They use your child’s Social Security numbers with other false information and data from other individuals to obtain credit or file a tax return to claim a child tax credit for a child who is not theirs.
Start protecting your child’s Social Security number from malicious use with these easy tips.
Take some time annually to see if your child has a credit report. Ideally, they should not until they obtain credit of some sort. The presence of a credit report at a young age can be a red flag in and of itself.
If you find a credit report, review it carefully for fraudulent activity. Inform the credit bureau that the report is likely fraud. Part of this process might mean providing clear documentation to the bureau of your child’s identity.
Use the security freeze tool to prevent anyone from accessing your child’s credit reports. Even if your child doesn’t currently have a credit report, requesting a freeze will create one for them. But the great benefit is, no one else can create a report for your child or make any requests under their Social Security number.
Parents or legal guardians of children under the age of 16 can place a credit freeze by proving the child’s identity and that you’re the child’s legal guardian.
You must place a security freeze with each of the major credit bureaus. And don’t forget that the freeze remains in place until you remove it.
If you have credit monitoring, consider adding your child to view their credit report activities as well. Some products offer child monitoring and locking a child’s credit report with ease.
Store your child’s documents in a safe place. This includes any of the following.
When forms request your child’s private information, ask if it’s truly necessary. For example, a doctor might not need the child’s full SSN, but just the last four digits to provide treatment. Or when enrolling in school, ask about how the institution protects the information you provide at enrollment.
As children get older and start accessing the internet, make sure they know safe online practices. Talk to them about privacy and security. It’s wise to set rules for what your child can share online.
Explain what a red flag for them should be if someone requests certain information and what they should do in these situations. Also, explain good password security for their accounts and devices.
Once you go through these steps, you might discover that your child’s identity has already been stolen. Take fast action with these critical steps.
It’s never too early to start protecting your child’s identity. Still have questions about this process or where to get started? Reach out to Sunset Finance with your questions, and we’ll help you provide your child the protection they need to have lifelong financial security.
Becoming the victim of an information breach is an experience no one wants to go through. Yet, even with the best prevention strategies and careful monitoring, this could happen to you.
We recommend that everyone read up and learn about what to do in the case of an information breach. You’ll want to act quickly to prevent fraudulent activity and damage to your credit score.
Here’s a step-by-step look at what to do if your information is part of a data breach.
The company at fault for the breach of your information should send you a notice explaining the information that others might have about you. Keep this documentation as you might need it later.
Consider following the instructions included in the paperwork they send you. You should now be on alert for any suspicious or out-of-the-ordinary things that come your way. This might include items in the mail that are not something you’re accustomed to getting, such as strange bank statements or loan information.
Be very wary of items from the IRS or anything requesting additional information or documentation. Don’t fall for these tricks to get further information about you.
You can let lenders know that you are a data breach victim. This will help them be wary of credit requests under your name, and you’ll get alerts whenever this takes place.
Initiate these fraud alerts with any one of the three major credit bureaus of Experian, Equifax or TransUnion. Once you’ve set up these alerts, the credit bureau will inform the other two and you’ll start getting notifications from all three if someone makes an inquiry under your name.
Using this process, lenders will reach out to you directly before fulfilling any loan requests. Fraud alerts are good for one year, though you can extend that by filling out a new alert once the original one expires.
With so much automation and digital tools for finances, people are checking their accounts less frequently. They know their employer will direct deposit their paychecks and that their utilities will automatically draft from their accounts.
But when you become a breach victim, you need to log into your financial accounts frequently. That way, you can flag fraudulent activity immediately and dispute it to avoid consequences. The sooner you catch strange activity, the easier it will be to take affirmative action.
You can request a credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus annually. If you’re monitoring your credit due to an information breach, you should request one report every four months to take full advantage of this service.
The only way to request your credit report online is through annualcreditreport.com. All other websites that claim to provide a credit report are probably fraudulent. You can learn safe practices for requesting your credit report from the FTC website.
A security freeze prevents lenders from viewing your credit report. You can also set up these alerts with any of the three major credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax or TransUnion. Just know that to take out a loan, you’ll need to unfreeze your account.
These freezes have no end date so keep track of when you put a freeze on your account so you don’t get a surprise when you go to take out a line of credit.
If you’re still unsure about how a breach could impact you or how to recover from it financially, reach out to our team. We’ll answer your questions and be your resource through this challenging time.
Protecting yourself and your finances is challenging. As we move further away from using cash and checks to pay for things, keeping personal information private is harder.
But with the digitization of payment processes, setting up alerts and protective services is also easier. Learn about your federal rights to services that protect your identity and help you spot and prevent fraud, protecting your finances.
According to Federal law you have a right to set up fraud alerts for free. This means that when a creditor pulls a report for a loan or services in your name, you’ll get an alert about it.
Some credit cards and banks now provide this service to help you keep your financial information all in one place. That way, you get a notification on your phone through your banking or credit card app when someone files a new loan application in your name.
But you can also set up these alerts with any of the three major credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax or TransUnion.
Once you file an alert with one of these bureaus, that bureau will notify the other two. That way, you’ll fully be protected should someone try to take out a loan in your name.
Alerts last for one year but can be renewed as often as you like.
Why this matters:
The sooner you spot fraudulent activity in your name, the better. With alerts, you can discover credit checks you didn’t order to prevent fraud before it impacts your finances and your credit score.
A security freeze is also known as a credit freeze. When you set up a security freeze, it prevents identity thieves from opening new accounts in your name. But be aware that it also prevents you from opening new accounts in your name.
You’ll need to remove the credit freeze before applying for a new line of credit or account, but it’s very easy to remove the freeze. You can place a security freeze on your account for free, and lifting it is also free.
During a freeze, your existing creditors and debt collectors will still be able to see your credit information. Additionally, the government will also still have access to view your credit information.
You can place a freeze on your account using any of the three major credit bureaus. All you need is the following information to set up a freeze:
Once you’ve set up the freeze, the credit bureau will send you a unique PIN. This PIN or password is the only way you can lift the freeze, so keep it handy but secure.
A security freeze does not expire, so it will remain on your account until you remove it.
Why this matters:
Having a security freeze means no new lines of credit can be opened as long as it is active.
Even if you haven’t been a victim of a breach, you can purchase these services through a variety of companies for a small annual fee.
But if you receive information about being part of a data breach, you should read the notice carefully. You’ll see information about free ID theft protection services. These services include:
The notice you get about being part of a data breach will include information on how to set up your free ID theft protection services. If you’d like to explore purchasing identity theft services, read up on this article from Consumer Reports for more information first.
Why this matters:
Having a service constantly watching out for you is one of the most secure ways you can protect your credit and your finances.
If you still have questions about your credit and how to protect your finances, contact Sunset Finance. We’ll answer your questions and guide you through what you need to know about credit alerts, freezes, and ID theft protection services.