Protect your identity, your money
“We, as individuals, are responsible for protecting ourselves against identity theft,” says Summerville Police Cpt. Jon Rogers, public information officer.
It is possible to protect yourself but it takes diligence, Rogers explains.
First some easy and obvious but often overlooked protections. “Do not carry your social security card with you,” he says, noting there is absolutely no reason anyone would need to have the actual social security card as long as they have memorized their SS number.
“Get your free credit report every year and go over it with a fine-tooth comb.” Rogers means a fine-tooth comb. “Look for small errors as well as big ones,” he says. Look at account numbers, dates, addresses, amounts, even what gender it says you are.
“Mine said I was a female with a Goose Creek address,” he laughs. “I have never lived in Goose Creek and I am most certainly not female.”
Rogers says it is probable that you will find errors on your report. He says you should immediately contact the credit-reporting company, which will investigate, clear mistakes and send you a corrected copy.
And it will cost you nothing…once a year, thanks to the federal government that created a clearing house for citizens to access a copy of their credit report annually for free.
It is www.annualcreditreport.com and you can get, he says, a report from the three major credit reporting agencies in the U.S.: Equifax, Trans Union and Experian.
He recommends printing all three reports and going through each of them, line by line.
“A lot of sites will offer you credit protection for a fee,” he says, “but if you are vigilant, and watch all your accounts you don’t need that.”
Check your bank account … the frequency is up to you. All of this can be done online. If there is no online access, go over the monthly paper statements carefully to ensure all the transactions are yours.
Rogers says he checks his daily, along with his credit card transactions. Is he neurotic? “I check daily because the quicker you catch an error or that someone else has used your card, the better your chances of being reimbursed. The longer the time that goes by, the less likely.”
If you discover someone has used your credit or bankcard, call the credit card company or bank immediately, he says. Then go and report it to law enforcement. Law enforcement may not be able to do anything but there will be a record.
Report the fraud to all three credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Trans Union, Experian – and they will put a “fraud alert” on your credit which will help protect you by requiring more identification than normal if someone tries to gain more credit in your name.
Another biggy, says Rogers, is trash.
“Shred all your documents,” he says emphatically. “Don’t just throw them away…even solicitations (junk mail) can give a would-be identity thief plenty of useful information. Shred everything!”
“One of the oldest ways [people steal identities] is to go through mail in the mailbox,” he says. Both incoming and outgoing. For example, you put mail in your box for the postman to take, you are paying bills but a thief can steal the checks, get your account number and signature and go to town. The same for incoming mail…such as bank and credit card statements. If possible, go paperless.
“The biggest things,” he concludes, “is to keep information out of wallets and purses that doesn’t have to be there, review credit reports annually, check credit card and bank statements at least monthly and as soon as you discover a problem, report it immediately.