The holiday season is prime shopping not only for consumers, but also identity thieves. While you are looking for the best deals, they are hunting for unattended handbags, credit cards on display at the check out counter, and documents left in the seats of cars parked at the mall.
Steps to Take to Protect Your Personal Information
- Never carry unnecessary identity documents in your purse or wallet. Social Security cards are, unfortunately, a common example.
- Never leave your purse unattended in a shopping cart or shelf while sorting through the shelf or rack for that perfect piece of clothing.
- Never leave documents, packages or your purse or wallet in the seat of your car when you go into the mall. They make prime targets for identity thieves and old fashioned crooks. Lock them in the trunk or glove box instead.
- Be aware of shoulder surfers. Identity thieves can take a picture of your credit card and video you entering your pin, right over your shoulder as you check out.
Unfortunately, even if you do all the right things you can still fall prey to identity theft. Having your personal information fall into the wrong hands can be scary and feel overwhelming. Anytime sensitive information is stolen, you should take the proper precautions immediately.
Steps to Take If You Lose Your Purse or Wallet?
- If you haven’t already, contact your lenders and report as lost or stolen any credit cards that may have been in your handbag. Your lenders will be able to go over any recent transactions with you to ensure that you are not held responsible for any fraudulent charges.
- Notify the Social Security Administration to let them know that your Social Security number has been compromised.
- Contact Experian and request a free initial security alert, or fraud alert.
A fraud alert notifies anyone viewing your credit report that someone may be trying to apply for credit in your name fraudulently, and asks creditors to contact you to verify your identity before approving applications in your name. .
When you request an initial alert, Experian also will provide a free copy of your credit report for your review. Look it over carefully to ensure there is no indication of fraud or identity theft.
If you do determine that you have been the victim of identity theft, you may add a more permanent fraud alert, called an Extended Fraud Victim Alert, to your credit report. You will need to provide a valid police report or identity theft report to do so. An extended fraud alert remains on your credit report for seven years.
The initial alert will remain on your report for 90 days. Experian will notify the other two major credit reporting agencies of your request for a fraud alert so that they can add an alert to their files as well.
You may also consider a monitoring service to help protect your identity. You can also learn more with Experian’s ID Theft Victim Assistance, where you will find detailed steps you can take to start protecting your identity, along with steps for recovery.
Identity Theft and Children
Experian does not knowingly maintain credit reports on minors. Depending on the age of your children, they may not have a credit record, in which case no alert would be necessary.
However, if their information has been used fraudulently, a credit record may already exist. If this is the case, Experian can assist you in adding alerts to protect their files as well.
You can find instructions for requesting a credit report for a minor by going to Experian’s Fraud Center and clicking on the “Minor Child Instructions” link.
How a Security Freeze Works
A security freeze is another tool used to protect against ongoing credit fraud resulting from identity theft. A credit freeze will not prevent someone from stealing your identity. But, like a fraud alert, it can help prevent use of your stolen identity to apply for credit.
A credit freeze works differently than a fraud alert, and is best used only as a last resort.
A security freeze prevents most businesses from viewing your credit report, including any potential lenders or employers you may wish to apply with. Existing lenders, law enforcement and some others may still be able to review your credit history.
Freezing your report will not impact your credit, but it will mean that you need to lift the freeze before applying for credit, employment, or other services where a credit check might be necessary.
When you freeze your credit report, you will be provided a PIN to lift the freeze. Because you must first “thaw” your report, a security freeze can hinder or delay any future applications, especially applications for “instant” credit. However, once a security freeze is permanently removed from your credit report, it will no longer affect your future transactions.
To learn more about adding and removing a security freeze, go to Experian’s Freeze Center.
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