You don’t have to be one of the 145 million Americans whose personal information was compromised in the recent Equifax data breach to be concerned about identity theft.
Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the U.S. Of course, ID theft isn’t 100 percent preventable, but it’s more crucial than ever to make sure you’re taking whatever steps you can to protect yourself from fraudsters.
Start with these simple tips:
File your taxes ASAP every year
If fraudsters get ahold of your personal info, they can file your tax return electronically and nab your tax refund before you get to it. Don’t let them get there first. File your taxes as soon as you can every year.
Here are a few red flags the IRS says might indicate that you’ve been a victim of tax ID theft:
- More than one tax return was filed using your Social Security number.
- You owe additional tax or refund offset or have had collection actions taken against you for a year you did not file a tax return.
- IRS records indicate you received wages or other income from an employer for whom you did not work.
Monitor your credit yourself
It doesn’t take that much work to keep tabs on your credit report these days, thanks to a bevy of new websites that allow you to track your credit data for free and whenever you like.
A few great tools include Credit Karma, Credit Sesame and MyLendingTree (note: LendingTree is the parent company of MagnifyMoney).
You can get free credit score estimates from these sites as well, but the real benefit is that they pull in your credit reporting data and make it easy to keep an eye out for suspicious activity.
You can, of course, also use annualcreditreport.com, where you can download one free credit report from each bureau every year. It’s important to check your report at all three bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — because different lenders report to different bureaus, and you don’t want to miss anything.
If you spot anything amiss, file a dispute right away.
Sign up for a credit freeze
A credit freeze means no one can apply for new credit under your name without your approval. To get the full impact, you should freeze your credit with each of the three major credit bureaus.
MagnifyMoney put together a comprehensive guide here that explains how to put a freeze on your report at each of the three credit reporting bureaus and how to thaw it when you want to apply for new credit down the line.
Important note: A freeze won’t protect you from people using your existing accounts, so keep monitoring them daily. According to the FBI, the vast majority of identity theft victims (86 percent) experienced fraud on their existing accounts, such as credit card or bank account information.
Set up credit and checking account alerts
Your bank or credit card company can text or send you an email any time someone makes a charge over a certain dollar amount. This will add another layer of protection to the fraud protection banks and lenders already employ.
Sign up for two-factor authorization
Any time someone tries to access your account from an unknown device, you’ll be sent a text message with a special code. Unless the scammer has your phone on hand, they’ll be stopped in their tracks.
MagnifyMoney is a price comparison and financial education website, founded by former bankers who use their knowledge of how the system works to help you save money.