Note: This is Part 3 of 4 in a series of posts on identity theft protections and how to safeguard your personal and financial information.
What Happened to my Account?
Perhaps you’ve received a letter similar to this:
“We are writing to inform you of an incident involving the compromise of personal information of certain former and current members, including name, address, health information, social security number, and financial information. We are writing to tell you about the incident out of an abundance of caution and to call your attention to the steps you may take to protect yourself…”
In today’s data-centric world, companies are constantly collecting and storing information about you – information that is all too easily compromised and misused. While it may sound like “an abundance of caution” is overreacting, just the opposite is true. If your identity is stolen, it could take a while to repair the damage.
First, perhaps, comes a very uncomfortable feeling when you see strange charges in your bank account or credit card statement. You’re certain these charges aren’t yours, and you start to feel sick. There’s only one explanation…
You’re a victim of identity theft.
So now what? How does it get fixed? It might be a headache – you’ll certainly need patience and tenacity. But the good news is that in most cases, it really can be completely repaired.
Preparing to Take Action
Next, gather and list your account information (but only the last few digits of the account number), including contact methods for each institution. If you’re a victim of identity theft, you don’t want to have to be hunting through bills figuring out what accounts you have where. This also helps when you get your credit report since you can easily compare.
Another good ounce of prevention is to monitor your accounts carefully. Consider online banking and set alerts for unusual transactions or low balances.
Finally, get your free annual credit report from each credit reporting bureau. These are available at annualcreditreport.com or:
- TransUnion, 1-800-680-7289, www.transunion.com
- Experian, 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742), www.experian.com
- Equifax, 1-800-525-6285, www.equifax.com
(If you’ve received your credit report but don’t really understand it, stick with us. We’ll talk about how to make sense of it in an upcoming post.)
Instead of requesting an annual report, consider a more frequent schedule of reporting from the bureaus. For example, request one from one bureau, let’s say on January 1, then the next bureau four months later (May 1), and the last one four months after that (September 1). You can then start all over again the next year. If you want to review even more often, you might want to sign up for a credit monitoring service.
Now you know how to prevent and prepare for identity theft. Remember that prevention is the best preparation, so keep your data safe! Also remember to keep an updated account list and to monitor your accounts and credit reports carefully.
In part 4 of our series on Identity Theft Protections, we’ll talk about taking action – the detailed steps you should take to clean up an identity theft mess.