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What is the best way to prevent identity theft at home?
There is no one thing you can do to prevent identity theft, but most of the steps you can take to protect yourself from it at home or outside the home are pretty simple:
- Buy a shredder. Shred anything you put in the trash that has identifying information on it. Going through trash is still one of the most popular ways identity thieves get your information.
- Safeguard sensitive documents in your home. Make sure you don't leave documents with sensitive information including credit cards, bank statements, passports, birth certificates, Social Security numbers or your driver's license lying around in the open, such as on the kitchen counter or a desk in your home office. Consider using a lockable cabinet to store your records, and perhaps a small safe for the really important stuff. Sadly, it is not uncommon for fraud to be committed by family members or friends.
- Use strong passwords. Password protect your phone, tablet and computer and install virus protection and firewall software to prevent malware, such as keystroke trackers, from invading your computer system and exposing your personal details.
- Be mindful when entering personal information online. When you shop online, make sure you make transactions using secure connections. Look for the "https" in the URL as an indicator that the site is secure.
- Beware of "phishing." You may receive phone calls, emails or texts where criminals represent themselves as your bank or account holder and ask you to "verify" your data for audit purposes. Legitimate companies won't ask you to provide such information.
This list is by no means a complete, but it is a starting point. The best thing you can do is to make a habit of thinking about where your personal information appears and taking appropriate action to secure it.
Remember that you can do everything right and still be a victim. That is why many people subscribe to a credit monitoring or identity protection service so that they can be alerted of any unusual activity. Experian offers a free credit monitoring service for those who want to be proactive about checking their credit reports for signs of credit fraud.
A determined identity thief may still make you a victim despite your best efforts to prevent it, but you can make it as difficult as possible for them.
What Should I Do If I Think My Information Has Been Compromised?
If you believe your identification information has been compromised, there are some things you can do to help protect yourself:
- Request an initial security alert be added to your credit reports. The quickest way to do this is by going online to Experian's Fraud Center. An initial alert lasts one year. It notifies anyone receiving the report that someone may be trying to apply for credit fraudulently and asks the lender to take extra steps to verify identity before approving the application. Once added, Experian will automatically notify the other two national credit reporting agencies so that they can add an alert as well.
- Check your credit reports. Order a copy of your credit report from each of the three national credit reporting agencies and review them carefully for any sign of credit fraud. You can request your free reports from Experian, TransUnion and Equifax by going to AnnualCreditReport.com. You can also order your free credit report and free credit score directly from Experian.
- Dispute any information related to identity theft. If you identify items on your credit report that are related to identity theft or credit fraud, contact Experian to dispute the fraudulent information. If you file a police report or identity theft report, you can send a copy of the report to Experian so that we can begin blocking any fraudulent accounts.
Thanks for asking.
Jennifer White, Consumer Education Specialist