Family Finance: Protecting Your Identity
Sometimes all it takes to have someone "steal" your identity is a very common name. Michael Jackson once was a guest on one of my "On the Money" shows. No, not the mega-star with his own mega-money troubles, but his namesake—a regular guy who had other Michael Jacksons on his credit report, messing up his clean credit! Talk about a celebrity impersonator!
Unfortunately, the way the credit system is set up, you are guilty until proven innocent. Whether it's a Michael Jackson mix-up or an identity thief running up bills and opening up accounts in your name, it's up to YOU to prove when someone is not you and that something owed is not yours. In other words, you have to monitor your own credit!
How do I check for identity theft? First, make sure you routinely review your bank statements (especially if you use a debit card), credit card statements and check for suspicious activity. Make sure you check your credit reports a couple of times a year. Scour them for activity and accounts that may not be yours.
What can I do if someone's stolen my identity? If you suspect identity theft, keep written records of all your calls and disputes to the bank, credit card company, or wherever the suspicious activity is coming from. If you suspect your ID has been stolen (or if you know it's been stolen), go to The Identity Theft Resource Center. How do I correct my credit report? For more information on how to correct your credit reports, go to credit.com, but unless you suspect identity theft do NOT purchase a credit monitoring system! And do NOT pay for identity theft insurance either— it's not worth the expense and you can protect yourself for much, much less. Try the following steps instead. How can I protect my identity?
- NEVER carry your social security card in your wallet — keep it in a safe at home or in a safety deposit box, and take it out only when you absolutely need to! Your social security IS your life!
- Do not give your social security number or driver's license to anyone or anyplace unless it's legally required (say, to file your taxes) — that means, not at the pharmacy counter, not even at the doctor's office or dentist (unless it's required by insurance).
- Photocopy all the credit cards you carry in your wallet, both front and back, so if you lose your wallet or if it's stolen, you have all the numbers at hand that you need to call your issuers.
- Don't save your credit card information when you're shopping online! Besides being safe, having to type in your info every time may also help you spend less!
- Always make sure you have the most updated security software on your home computer, or wherever you manage your bills and shop online.
- Buy a shredder! Don't ever toss bills, bank statements or any personal info in the trash or recycling bin unless it's been shredded to bits!
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