During this past tax season, most of us were in tune with our finances as we gathered documents for our tax returns. But you should really keep a close eye on your financial accounts all year-round.
Did you know that you can get a free credit report every four months if you stagger your orders from the three national credit reporting companies (Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian)? You are entitled to one free copy of your credit report from each company every year; so why not order one in June, one in October, and one in February.
It’s so important to stay on top of your credit situation. Once thieves have your personal information, they can empty your bank account, use your credit cards, open new accounts, or even get medical treatment using your health insurance.
If you believe your personal information has been stolen, you need to act quickly to limit the damage. But repairing the damage will take time and effort. Think you’ve been a victim of ID theft? Here are 10 clues to look out for:
- Unexplained withdrawals from your bank account.
- Unexplained charges on your credit card.
- Unexpectedly having a check refused or returned.
- Debt collectors calling about debts that aren’t yours.
- Being told by the IRS that more than one tax return has been filed in your name.
- Getting notification from the IRS that includes income from an employer you don’t work for.
- Receiving medical bills for medical services you didn’t use.
- Discovering unfamiliar accounts or charges when you check your credit report.
- You find that bills and other mail are going missing.
- Having your information compromised by a retail data breach.
The Federal Trade Commission provides information to help you resolve financial issues and other problems that can result from identity theft. The FTC has extensive information on what to do if you suspect someone has stolen your identity, but here are the things you should do right away.
- Contact your bank and credit card companies right away, by phone and in writing.
- Create an initial Fraud Alert – This can make it harder for an identity thief to open more accounts in your name. Contact one of the three credit report companies to put a fraud alert on your file.
- Once you’ve created a fraud alert, you can order a free credit report from each of the three credit reporting companies.
- Create an Identity Theft Report – This gives you some important rights that can help you recover from the theft. To create a report, file a complaint with the FTC and print your Identity Theft Affidavit. Use that to file a police report and create your Identity Theft Report.
- You can start to repair your credit by sending this ID Theft Report to the three credit reporting companies, asking them to block the disputed information on your credit reports.
- If you feel your Social Security number has been compromised, call the Social Security Fraud hotline at 1-800-269-0271
It’s easier to take steps to prevent ID theft than it is to repair the damage afterwards. Never disclose your full Social Security number unless you are 100% certain of who you’re dealing with, always use a shredder (not the trash) to dispose of sensitive documents, order regular credit reports, and always be aware of activity on your bank and credit cards. And lastly, there are thousands of scammers out there trying to get your personal information. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Trust your gut.