Steps to Reduce Your Risk of Identity Theft

Last year was big for our family.  We finally gave in and got cell phones for our kids.  When we were kids and our parents gave us things, we heard the basic parental warning like “you better not lose it” and we were left to figure it out on our own. Today, a common, non-harmful, mostly plastic cell phone, comes with us not only asserting the traditional warning about not losing it, we must also outline all sorts of additional warnings about safety, security and how to stay out of trouble. And that was just for the new cell phone I gave my mom.

In this post, I’m outlining some prevention steps to help you stay out of trouble and reduce your risk of identity theft.  This list doesn’t include 100% of everything you could do, but it’s a good start:

Very Basic Level Prevention Steps – no reason not to do these

-When disposing of documents containing personal information, use a good quality cross-cut shredder

-Password-protect all your electronic devices and use anti-virus software

-Never share personal information or account numbers over the phone unless you initiated the call to the credit card company, bank or other financial institution

-Don’t carry your Social Security card in your purse or waller

-Always clear out your personal information before donating or selling computers or other devices

-Please know the IRS will never call you, this is a scam

Advanced Level Prevention Steps – require some work

-Set up your credit cards to send you a text or email alert each time a charge is made.  Many credit cards are now offering this feature.

-Monitor your credit card and bank accounts carefully

-Obtain your free annual credit report from and review it for accuracy

Ninja Level Prevention Steps – require some work and fees

In my previous post, I mentioned that you can freeze your credit if you have your identity stolen.  A credit freeze prevents a credit report from being released in response to a new credit application.  Many people don’t know that you can also freeze your credit as a prevention strategy.  While this might not be a practical solution for someone who applies for credit on a regular basis (you would have to temporarily lift the freeze each time you applied for credit), it may make sense for children and retirees.

For Children

According to the authorities, children have a very high likelihood of being subjected to identity theft.  Although they cannot legally apply for credit, children are regularly targeted for id theft because they have clean credit and Social Security numbers.  Parents often enter their children’s personal information along with SS numbers, on school registrations, sports forms, and other school applications where they can be easily stolen.

Since children do not use credit, placing a credit freeze at the credit bureaus does not create any inconvenience.  Although there is a $10 fee to get apply a credit freeze, it is something worth doing to protect against the negative long-term consequences if a child’s identity is stolen.

For Those Under 65

Managing a credit freeze on your credit report during the years of your life when you will be applying for credit from more frequently, will require some management on your part.  You will be given a personal identification number (PIN).  The PIN will be required to remove the freeze temporarily each time you apply for credit.  There are fees for adding and lifting the freeze.  It may become too much work to manage this, so instead of using a credit freeze, you may want to consider using one of the many credit protection services that are available.  Some of the services offer credit monitoring as well as identity theft resolution services.

For Those Ages 65 and over

If you are over 65 or older and generally do not apply for new credit regularly, you may want to consider implementing a credit freeze on your credit report.  If you do apply for credit after having your credit frozen, you will need to lift it temporarily.  This would require you to plan ahead and use the PIN number that they issue to you.  Although there is no fee to add the credit freeze at the three credit bureaus, there is a $10 fee to temporarily lift it.  It is something to seriously consider doing because the risks far outweigh the cost, especially if you are not applying for new credit on a regular basis.

Blog Tip:  Let me know if you are interested in applying a credit freeze at the three credit bureaus.  I have template letters that I could send you, along with instructions on what you will need to submit.

I’d like to hear your thoughts, ideas and experiences…what steps have you taken to protect your identity?

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