Our neighbor is dealing with a case of identity theft. It’s been a nightmare for him. What can we do to protect ourselves?
Identity theft is running rampant, and it can take many forms. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 16.6 million people experienced identity theft in 2012. Plus, a recent report by the Identity Theft Resource Center revealed that more than 85 million records were compromised in 783 data breaches during 2014, putting many people’s information at risk. And the Federal Trade Commission recently reported that tax-related identity theft complaints made a big jump in 2014, accounting for almost one-third of the nearly 333,000 identity theft complaints it received.
Identity thieves have numerous tricks up their sleeves. Once they have your personal information, they can take money from your bank account, use your credit card information to make purchases, file a tax return and get your refund, and open new accounts in your name that you never know about until creditors start hounding you.
Thieves can get your personal information in many ways, from hacking into computerized records to rifling through your trash or recycled paper to find sensitive information.
You can take steps to reduce your risk, including:
• Protect your personal information as much as possible. Shred statements with account numbers on them and change online credit and bank account passwords every three to six months. Limit what you carry in your wallet to only the credit or debit cards you need. Leave your Social Security card at home in a secure place. If you have a Medicare card, carry it with you only when you need to use it.
• Review your credit reports regularly. By law, you can get a free credit report from each of the three credit reporting companies — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — every year. The companies don’t always have the same information, so get reports from each. Some experts advise setting up a schedule to get one free report every four months. You can get free reports by calling 877-322-8228 or going to annualcreditreport.com. Once you get your report, check it to make sure it lists only accounts that you have opened. Take immediate steps to correct any errors you find.
• You may want to consider requesting a credit freeze. This will help prevent anyone from opening a new account with your information. You will need to lift the freeze if you ever want to open a new credit account or allow a lender or other business to review your credit report, and that may also cost a fee. But the inconveniences could be worth your peace of mind.
To find out more about how to protect yourself, as well as what to do if you become a victim of identity theft, see the FTC’s publication, “Taking Charge: What To Do If Your Identity is Stolen,” online at consumer.ftc.gov. In Ohio, the Attorney General’s office offers services for identity theft victims. Learn more at ohioattorneygeneral.gov/Individuals-and-Families/Consumers/Identity-Theft.
Family Fundamentals is a monthly column on family issues. It is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Family Fundamentals, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or [email protected].