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Do Your Future Self a Favor

Quick tips to help protect you and your family from identity theft.

Featured in the Richmond Times Dispatch’s Making ‘Cents’ of Financial Planning special on 2/17/2019*

Technology has made our lives easier in many ways. But at what cost?

The recent tsunami of corporate data hacks is proof our personal data has become the price of admission. If you’ve ever interacted with modern technology, like it or not, your private information is out there.

So what can you do to protect yourself, beyond trashing your computer, only paying in cash, and forsaking the internet? Here are some ideas:

Freeze Your Credit

This can stop fraud before it starts by blocking new lenders from accessing your credit reports. Effectively, a fraudster trying to open an account in your name should be promptly rejected because the lender will be unable to verify “their” (i.e. your) creditworthiness beforehand.

Not only is this a highly effective precaution, but it is also free and incredibly easy to do. Go to each bureau’s website (Equifax, Experian, TransUnion – see links below) and follow the prompts. It should take less than 10 minutes in total to do all three. Afterward, you’ll get passcodes from each bureau. Keep these somewhere safe! You’ll need these passcodes if/when you need to “unfreeze” your credit (ex: if trying to buy a house/car, or signing up for a new credit card). In most cases, the bureaus are legally required to unfreeze your credit within one hour – making this a painless means of protecting your identity.

Oh, and one more thing – freezing your credit does not affect your credit score!

Freeze Kids’ Credit

Fraudsters don’t discriminate based on age. If you have kids under 16, you should freeze their credit, too. Kids over 16 need to do it themselves.. Freezing a minor child’s credit takes a bit more effort, but overall is still easy to do. You’ll need to mail each bureau a standardized form (see links below), along with copies of birth certificates, drivers licenses, and Social Security cards. About a week later, you’ll get a confirmation letter in the mail, complete with steps on how to unfreeze their credit when necessary.

Credit Monitoring

A freeze only stops new accounts from being opened. Hackers can still make fraudulent charges on existing accounts. For a monthly fee, monitoring services help detect unauthorized usage on your current accounts. This can help catch fraud before too much damage is done.

If you haven’t frozen your credit, a monitoring service should also alert you any time an account is opened in your name. But because monitoring alone will not stop a fraudulent account from being opened in the first place, if you get this alert you’ll need to immediately, proactively take additional action. For this reason, pairing credit freezes with credit monitoring can be an effective one-two punch.

Identity theft is something that affects the young and the old, the rich and the poor alike.  And the unfortunate reality is that advances in technology are allowing hackers to get more and more sophisticated every day. No line of identity protection is 100% foolproof, but the above tactics will give you an edge.  So do your future self a favor – take a few minutes today to safeguard your family from what could be a giant (and expensive) headache tomorrow.

Helpful Links:

Freezing Your Own Credit:

Freezing Your Child’s Credit:

Disclosures:

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*A shorter version of this article was featured in the Richmond Times Dispatch’s ‘Making ‘Cents’ of Financial Planning’ special on 2/17/19. This version has been expanded to provide more details to the reader.