Identity Theft Is on the Rise
Herb White, MBA, CFP
Many people think identity theft is under control these days. It may not be discussed as often now, but it is on the rise. In 2009 losses to consumers were $54 billion, and then dropped in 2010 to $13.3 billion. In 2011, however, that number climbed again to $18 billion. No doubt it is more this year. One of the reasons for the increase is that more people are online and placing their personal information there. Another reason is that we all are becoming more complacent about safeguarding our personal information. With your finances at stake, take a minute to review these preventive steps…
- Check your credit reports yearly. If you suspect a theft, check them now.
- The three agencies are: TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289; www.transunion.com; Equifax: 1-800-525-6285; www.equifax.com; Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742); www.experian.com.
- Place a security freeze on your credit reports.
This is the most effective step you can take. A security freeze gives consumers the choice to “freeze” or lock access to their credit file against anyone trying to open up a new account or to get new credit in their name.
When a security freeze is in place at all three major credit bureaus, an identity thief cannot open a new account because the potential creditor or seller of services will not be able to check the credit file. When the consumer is applying for credit, he or she can lift the freeze temporarily using a PIN so legitimate applications for credit or services can be processed.
If you live in Colorado, for instance, you are automatically eligible for a security freeze. A permanent freeze remains until you request removal.
Be a safe online shopper.
Phony websites are still prevalent and phishing is common. Scammers dupe unsuspecting Internet users into providing their personal information such as account numbers, passwords and Social Security number. Be aware of all the ways these scammers operate. Be sure that the commercial website you are making purchases from or supplying personal information to is legitimate. Start by making sure the site is encrypted. Phishing often begins through an email, asking you for financial information about yourself. Look for the lock symbol in the browser window or an “https” web address rather than “http.”
Take quick steps when you suspect your identity has been stolen.
- Immediately contact one of the three credit reporting bureaus and ask to have a 90-day “fraud alert” placed on your credit report. That bureau has the responsibility of contacting the other two bureaus with your request. Be sure to obtain copies of your current credit report from all three agencies and immediately close the account you suspect has been stolen. There are two types of fraud alerts: an initial alert, which stays on your credit report for at least 90 days, and an extended alert, which stays on your report for seven years.
- Then file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission Bureau of Consumer Protection. Do not use an automated report to file, if possible. You will then create an FTC Affidavit, which you will take to the local police department to file a Police Report.
These combined documents are your Identity Theft Report. This document can be used to remove fraudulent information from your credit report. It also helps keep businesses from collecting debts from you that were caused by the theft. Thirdly, it helps you get information about dealing with any accounts that were opened in your name.
If you are dealing with fraud through your bank or ATM card, close the account(s) immediately. When you open new accounts, be sure they are password protected. Sometimes checks are stolen or misused. Always stop payment on checks or your ATM card as soon as possible.
The Federal Trade Commission’s website, www.ftc.gov, has excellent additional resources. Additionally, if you are concerned about the state of your personal finances due to identity theft, be sure to contact a financial advisor for help.Tune in to “America’s Wealth Management Show” sponsored locally by Life Certain Wealth Strategies Saturdays from 12 noon to 1 p.m. on news radio 630 KHOW. Provided by courtesy of Herb White, MBA, CFP, a Certified Financial Planner™ with Life Certain Wealth Strategies, 8400 E Prentice Ave, #715 Greenwood Village, Colorado, www.lifecertain.com, (303) 793-3999. Securities and investment advisory services offered through Woodbury Financial Services, Inc. Member FINRA, SIPC and Registered Investment Advisor. Life Certain Wealth Strategies and Woodbury Financial Services are not affiliated entities.