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Protecting Your Identity and Credit

| September 22, 2017
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Lets Face it - Your Identity has been compromised. 

This is the topic of the week - I have already received numerous calls on the topic from clients worried about the latest high profile hack at Equifax.  But even if you weren't affected by this hack (and who wasn't - 145 MILLION people were impacted!!!), it is a pretty safe bet that the bad guys have access to everyone's personal information.  So what do you do to protect yourself?  

Here are a few tips.  

1. Review your Credit Report.  This is easy.  Go to www.annualcreditreport.com and request a copy of your credit report.  It will give you a list of every credit account you ever opened, and its current status.  You are not worried much about ancient history, you are looking for more recent activity that you do not recognize.  The website will instruct you what to do if you have questions about an item. 

2. Purchase Credit Monitoring and Identity theft protection.  For a small monthly fee, these firms will monitor your credit and alert you if anyone tries to open an account in your name.  Most will also offer to help repair any damages done in the event that your identity is compromised.  Not having identity theft protection and credit monitoring today is like living in the wild west without a sidearm.      

3. Monitor your bank and credit card transactions closely.  Question items you don't recognize.  If someone makes a purchase with your card data illicitly, the credit card companies will cover the cost and refund your money - but only if you recognize and report the fraud.  I have found 3 fraudulent transactions on my personal credit cards over the years, and each was resolved quickly with a phone call to the bank.  

4. Be alert for possible tax fraud.  The IRS (despite having lost MY tax data...) has been making progress fighting back against the fraudulent filing of tax returns, but it remains a serious problem.  Basically, someone using your data files a return and claims a refund which is deposited into the criminals account.  When you come along later and try to file your legitimate return, you have a real mess to unravel.  Learn about tax fraud and how to protect yourself here https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/taxpayer-guide-to-identity-theft

5. Credit Freeze / Fraud Alert.  If you are especially concerned that you are being targeted, you may opt to request a credit freeze or fraud alert through the credit agencies.  If you do this, be aware that there may be delays in opening credit accounts or applying for loans while the freeze or alert remains in effect.  See http://www.experian.com/news/data-breach-five-things-to-do-after-your-information-has-been-stolen.html for detailed instructions.  

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