By HRRC Financial Counselor Keesha Allen.
Identity theft can happen to anyone. When someone steals your personal information and uses it without your permission, it can disrupt your finances, credit history, and reputation. You may find it hard to get credit, a job, a place to live, or utility service. Here are some tips to protect your information and what to do if you fall victim to identity theft.
First, request your credit report annually and read it thoroughly. You have the right to a free credit report every 12 months from each of the three nationwide credit reporting companies. Order all three reports at once, or order one report every four months. To order, go to www.annualcreditreport.com or call 1-877-322-8228. Be sure to look for mistakes or accounts you do not recognize.
Second, shred all papers that show personal, financial, and medical information. Thieves often go through trash cans and dumpsters, stealing bills and documents. Check your city’s website for free shredding events.
Finally, if you shop or bank online, use websites that protect your financial information with encryption. Look for “https” at the beginning of the web address. (“S” indicates the site is “secure.”) If you use a public wireless network, don’t send information to any website that is not fully encrypted. Protect your accounts by using passwords that are not easy to guess; try to use a combination of numbers and symbols whenever you can.
If you think your identity has been stolen, take these steps to report the problem: Contact one of the nationwide credit report agencies (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax), and ask for a fraud alert on your credit report. The agency you call must contact the other two, so fraud alerts will also be placed on your files there. An initial fraud alert is good for 90 days. Next, contact the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint or 1-877-438-4338. Create a complaint (called an FTC Affidavit) that you can then take to your local police and file a report. The FTC Affidavit and your police report together make up an Identity Theft Report; this can help you get fraudulent information removed from your credit report, stop a company from collecting debts caused by identity theft, and get information about accounts a thief opened in your name.
Call HRRC Financial Counselor, Keesha Allen at (216) 381-6100 ext. 13 for additional tips or for assistance in filing an Identity Theft Report.