How to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft
Paying for identity theft protection services may not be the right choice for every consumer. If you choose to do your own monitoring or you’re looking to take additional steps to secure your personal information, there are particular tips and precautionary measures we recommend.
Make sure to check your credit reports regularly. Under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transaction Act, you are entitled to one free credit report every 12 months from each of the three credit reporting bureaus, which can be obtained from www.annualcreditreport.com. We suggest doing so at least once per year. Beware of other sites with similar names, as they may charge you for your report or for additional services you don’t want or need.
You can also put a fraud alert or credit freeze on your credit report without the aid of an identity theft protection company. A fraud alert is a flag on your credit file that tells potential lenders to take additional precautions to confirm identity before extending a new line of credit. This alert lasts 90 days, and is free if you are the victim of identity fraud.
A credit freeze is the next step up from a fraud alert. It will prevent anyone from taking a line of credit out in your name, including yourself. If you do decide to open a new line of credit, you will need to remove this freeze on your report, which can take around three business days to remove. Depending on your state of residence, there may be a fee involved to freeze your credit (typically ranges from $10-15).
Take the time to properly dispose of documents with sensitive personal information. Remember that even junk mail can contain your personal information, so make sure to delete it securely and permanently. On a related note, you can choose to opt out of preapproved credit offers, most of which arrive by mail, which are particularly easy for criminals to obtain. To opt out for five years, you can call the toll-free number 1-888-5-OPT-OUT (1-888-567-8688), or visit www.optoutprescreen.com. You may also choose to opt out permanently at the website provided. Also ensure that you have security software installed on your computer to make it harder for hackers to access your information.
While there are a number of things you can do on your own that identity theft protection companies also do, there are some services the companies offer that would be very difficult for the average consumer to do on their own, such as scanning black market websites for personal information, or routinely monitoring public records or other government databases. If you do decide to take identity theft protection into your own hands, make sure you are motivated and disciplined enough to make it a routine every quarter, or even monthly. If you struggle with organization, or foresee yourself letting the monitoring fall by the wayside after awhile, it may be worth looking into the services provided by identity theft protection companies.