Oh…your identity will never be stolen…until it does. And once that happens, untangling yourself from the ensuing mess with the supposed creditors and the credit reporting agencies is going to be your second job for a while. You thought you cleaned up that mess and a few years later, it pops up again and you rinse and repeat the cycle. The number of Americans falling victim to ID theft is growing and growing fast it is. You are bound to be next.
But all is not lost in this attempt to keep your identity safe and intact. A few simple things can do the trick in almost entirely eliminating this curse or at the very least, limiting the amount of damage that could be inflicted.
– Keeping a tab on your credit profile: You can access your credit reports for free once each year at www.annualcreditreport.com from all three bureaus. Instead of accessing all three reports at once, we recommend staggering the access by pulling a report from a bureau at a time every 4 months. Your dossier (yes, that is what it is) is not going to be any different from one agency to the next so by staggering the access, you are in a way checking your credit profile three times a year. Any malfeasance with your record will be detected in time before a lot of damage is inflicted. You want an even more frequent account of what is going on with your credit? Sites like Creditkarma.com allow unlimited and free access to your credit profile whenever and wherever you want so that’s another option. Also, quite many credit card companies now give you free access to your credit reports and scores so you now have no excuse to not know what is going on with your credit profile.
– Freeze your credit files at the three bureaus: Locking up your credit at the three bureaus has proven to be the best weapon against economic identity theft. You freeze your credit at each bureau separately and in that process, you will be assigned a secret personal identification number (PINs) that only you have. And once your credit is frozen, it’s frozen. No new credit can be issued without you using that pin to temporarily thaw access to your files. This is not to be confused with credit monitoring services you see routinely advertised. These services are not as effective in truly protecting your identity and they cost a lot, lot more than a credit freeze.
Credit bureaus hate it when you lock your files because you are putting a stop to a very lucrative revenue stream for them that entails selling and reselling your information to businesses and hence you won’t see them marketing this thing to you. But then you have us.
And freezing your credit is not a completely painless process. First it costs about $10 (in California) for freezing your file at each bureau. And every time you need new credit, you will have to thaw your file which will cost another $10. You likely won’t have to thaw your files at all three bureaus simultaneously because the vendor pulling your credit will likely do so from one of the three bureaus so you find that out first and thaw your file with only that source.
Freezing your credit at Equifax (website).
Freezing your credit at Experian (website).
Freezing your credit at Transunion (website).
Start by using the links above and lock your files.
– Shred baby shred: This one is again one of those no-brainers. Buy a good cross-cut paper shredder and shred anything and everything.
Follow these steps and rest easy.
Image credit – Jayson Ignacio, Flickr