Given my recent experience with identity theft, I though I’d take a few minutes to discuss some options for you to help prevent this from occurring to you. Besides taking the obvious physical precautions and not letting strangers into your home, there are electronic credit monitoring options available that you might already have access to. These services can cost several hundred dollars a year but you can obtain at least basic monitoring for free.
First, what do I mean by “monitoring?” Monitoring is simply at its core a systematic link between your social security number and personal information being used to open credit cards or other loan products. Given high-profile hacking incidents reported and other accidental disclosure of personal information that has occurred with some companies, consumers are vulnerable to identity theft. But, you can retain a semblance of security, and here’s how.
Credit monitoring options
The American Automobile Association, better known as AAA, provides identity theft monitoring services as part of your membership. Even if you don’t own a car, I highly recommend AAA for the discounts alone. They are well worth the cost of membership. Their basic identity theft coverage retails around $80 /year on its own and includes alerts to you if someone tries to open a new line of credit using your personal information. I signed up and once a month receive a note stating if any activity has occurred. And, today, I learned from a consumer advocate hero of mine, Clark Howard, about a new free service for monitoring credit called “Civic.” Civic partners with financial institutions and alerts you if someone is trying to use your personal information to open a loan product. Today, I signed up and will give it a shot. Since it’s free, I might as well.
Everyone is also entitled to a free report from the three major bureaus, Experian, Transunion, and Equifax by visiting Annual Credit Report. This is the legitimate, Federally-mandated site, not the one you see on commercials, for pulling your file.
Don’t forget also that if there are unauthorized transactions on your statements, you are generally exempt from any liability for the charges. It’s important to notify the bank as soon as possible though.