Listen, identity theft can happen to anyone, even Taraji P. Henson isn’t exempt!
Just recently, a Chicago woman was arrested and charged with a felony count of continuing a financial crime enterprise as a result of breaking into the Oscar nominee’s email, stealing her identification and ordering $4,000 worth of goods in the “Empire” star’s name.
So what can you do to not be fooled?
First, just because you haven’t been fully exposed to the reality of identity theft, it doesn’t mean you’re exempt. Researches say that if you haven’t been exposed to identity theft already, you know someone who has. According to the Federal Trade Commission, stolen identity was the No. 1 complaint from 1999 to 2010 and fraud amounts average between $48 and $54 billion per year!
You have to know that with our growing societal dependency on social media, and cellphones/ smartphones, we’re so much more exposed to the realities of identity theft. And, in this day and age, what can you do? Many of us use these means to stay connected to the world and expand our businesses, so hiding out is not quite going to do the trick no matter how much you attempt to disguise that Facebook avatar!
Lucky for you, we’ve compiled a list of a few things you can do to protect yourself from this costly epidemic.
- Look at how you receive your mail and important documents. In many neighborhoods, your mailbox is not necessarily secured. You’re at the mercy of trusting people simply walking by. We’d hope that everyone would be honest, but unfortunately, it doesn’t always work that way. Switch to online or “paperless” statements from your financial institutions and other service providers. Or, think about utilizing a P.O. Box. Both may seem like a little more work, but not nearly as much as dealing with the headache of your identity being stolen!
- Monitor your finances routinely. Far too often, people don’t realize their finances have been compromised until its pretty late in the game and too much damage has been done. What I’ve found for many people is that getting the mail out of the mailbox is one thing, but actually opening it up and reading it is another! You need to know what’s going on with anything associated with your name and social security number. Don’t ignore envelopes from companies you didn’t open an account with. . . That’s the point! If they’re sending you something, maybe somebody else did!
- Check your credit often. And by often, we mean more than that one time of year you can get the free report from annualcreditreport.com. Typically you can find credit monitoring services through your financial institution or even the credit bureaus directly. You want to receive an alert as soon as a new account is applied for or opened in your name.
- Use more than one password. I know, I know. It seems like too much trouble to memorize all these passwords, but if it keeps a crook off your heels and out of your wallet, isn’t it worth it? Use PINs and passwords with numbers, symbols and upper and lowercase letters that are difficult to guess. Remember, difficult means difficult. If I know your spouse’s name and children’s names 10 minutes into meeting you and can crack the password, you probably need to put a little more creativity into it.
- Try out an identity protection service. Now, think about this like car insurance. You can have a black belt in defensive driving, but the reality is you’re still at the mercy of others while you’re out in the world minding your own business. If someone hits you, isn’t it great to be able to call your insurance company and have them handle all of the paperwork, phone calls, negotiations, etc? Now, if you’re identity is stolen, identity protection services can do the exact same thing!
Did you know that the average person will spend 165 hours working on closing accounts opened in their name due to ID theft? They spend another 58 hours correcting problems on existing accounts. Unless you can take three full weeks off of work to make this your full time job, you may want to consider it! And look specifically for companies like ProtectMyID which happens to be offered by the credit bureau, Experian.
Everyday somewhere in this country, an identity theft victim loses the opportunity to realize their dreams. Whether its not being able to obtain financing for a mortgage or auto loan or not being able to even take out a student loan, dreams are crushed because of lack of planning and preparation in this area.
Get serious about making sure its not you.