Identity theft protection – you can do it!
You’ve probably seen ads offering “identity protection” services. In fact, nobody can guarantee you won’t experience identity theft. Those services offer identity monitoring and repair — things you can do yourself, for free.
Concern about identity theft has spawned many companies that watch information sources — most notably, your credit report — for signs that an identity thief may be using your personal information to get loans, open credit card accounts, or otherwise cause financial havoc. You can pay them to alert you to possible trouble, or simply keep watch yourself.
If you’re open to being a do-it-yourselfer, here are some free and low-cost alternatives to buying identity theft protection services:
- Check your credit reports for free. Your credit reports usually will show if an identity thief opens, or tries to open, an account in your name. Federal law requires each of the three major credit bureaus to give you a free credit report each year at AnnualCreditReport.com, the only authorized website for free credit reports.
- Place a credit freeze on your reports. A credit freeze blocks anyone from accessing your credit reports without your permission. Because potential creditors can’t check your files, a freeze generally stops identity thieves from opening new accounts in your name.
- Review your monthly credit card, bank, retirement, and other account statements for transactions you didn’t authorize. Better yet, log in to check them more frequently.
- Keep an eye on your mailbox. If you’re not getting bills, benefits checks, or other mail you’re expecting, or if you get bills for items you didn’t buy, it could be a sign that an identity thief is at work.
- Review benefits statements you get from your health insurance providers, and immediately tell your insurers and medical providers if you see treatments you never received.
What if you find an identity thief has struck? You can get free recovery help at IdentityTheft.gov. You can report identity theft to the FTC and get a personal recovery plan that:
- walks you through each recovery step
- tracks your progress and adapts to your changing situation
- pre-fills letters and forms for you to send to credit bureaus, businesses, debt collectors, and the IRS
IdentityTheft.gov has recovery plans for more than 30 types of identity theft, including child identity theft and tax-related identity theft.
To learn more about your identity theft protection options, read the FTC’s recently updated article, Identity Theft Protection Services.