As we get settled into a new year it's easy to forget about what we spent money on or what services we signed up for. The start of the year is a whirlwind, and many take advantage of this time to highjack your identity and financial information for their own use. Identity theft continues to be a lucrative business for criminals in the United States. Last year, over 900,000 people reported having their identity stolen to the FTC, with credit card fraud being the most common method.
The FTC also reports that as many as one in five consumer credit reports contain errors that affect a consumer's credit score. Right now is an excellent time to go over charges made to your name and account by requesting a credit report from one of the three national credit reporting agencies. You are allowed a free copy of your report once a year from each of these agencies, meaning you can check your credit report three times a year. Currently, because of the COVID-19 crisis, you can access free weekly credit reports through April 20, 2021.
Once you receive your report, make sure to check trade lines, credit inquiries, and public records and collections. Take your time to review line by line and make a note of any unknown charges or unpaid debts that aren't your own. You can dispute these by writing to the credit reporting agency and creditor. It's crucial to catch discrepancies early to prevent further damage to your finances and credit.
Good safety habits provide the most benefits when practiced over time. Consider including the following tips to keep your identity and financial information safe through the rest of this year.
- Keep your birthday and any other personal identifying information off of your social media accounts.
- Avoid free trial offers or product samples as they may take your personal information such as your home address and use it elsewhere.
- Be wary of phone calls claiming to be a federal or trusted organization asking for your sensitive information such as your social security number.
- Always use two-step verification when logging in to your email, online bank, utility, or mortgage accounts.
- Be cautious when opening emails and clicking on links, identity thieves are most active during the week when we are distracted by work.
- Frequently check for updates to your phone or laptop's operating systems, avoid lapses that may provide opportunities for a security breach.
If you discover that your identity has been stolen, act fast and report it to the FTC at IdentityTheft.gov. For more tips on how to keep your family safe from scams, fraud, and identity theft visit, MaricopaCountyAttorney.org/ScamsAndFraud