Be the first line of defense against identity theft.
Identity theft occurs when a thief steals your personal information to commit fraud or other crimes like applying for credit, filing taxes, or getting medical services. Acts like these can damage your credit status and cost you time and money to restore your good name. If you are one of the 143 million American consumers that had their sensitive personal information exposed in 2017 as a result of a data breach at Equifax, there are steps you can take a proactive stance to protect your personal information from being misused.
Frequently check your accounts.
Access your bank and credit card accounts on a regular basis and look for unexpected charges or changes. Don’t ignore little charges or deposits $1.00 or less. Thieves do this to see if the account is live and if it is monitored before enacting a big hit.
Set up a fraud alert.
A fraud alert is a flag that credit reporting agencies put in your file to instruct creditors to take extra precautions, like requiring verification of your identity, when opening accounts or issuing credit. An initial fraud alert can be established for those concerned about identity theft but haven't yet become a victim. It lasts for 90 days and will protect your credit from unverified access. Victims of identity theft can establish an extended fraud alert that lasts for seven years and will also remove you from marketing lists for pre-screened or pre-approved credit accounts.
Monitor your credit report.
Check your credit report for unexpected changes. If accounts that you are unaware of show up in the credit report, be sure to review them as possible fraudulent accounts created with your stolen information. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires all three nationwide credit companies to provide free annual credit reports which you can get at annualcreditreport.com. You can receive all three reports at the same time, or request one from one agency and then request one from another agency at a different time.
Consider purchasing identity fraud protection.
While no one can protect you from having your personal information stolen, many companies offer monitoring services that watch for signs that an identity thief may be using your personal information as well as recovery services to help you deal with the effects of identity theft after it happens. WVU offers voluntary identity fraud protection to both students and employees that includes credit monitoring, a monthly credit score, an annual credit report, and a service to make replacing the contents of a wallet quick and easy.
Value and protect your information.
Take precautions to protect your personal information. Don’t carelessly give out your Social Security number, bank account numbers, credit card numbers, PINs, usernames, passwords or other items that should remain confidential. If someone contacts you asking for such information, be very skeptical. Thieves frequently use phishing emails to attempt to steal your information which often look official but legitimate companies will rarely ask for your personal information in this manner.
If you are uncertain about an email, do not respond. Dumpster-diving is another common way for identity thieves to get your information. Shred documents that contain personal information like bank accounts or credit card statements and remove labels from prescription drug bottles before discarding them.