(RepublicanNews.org) – Identity theft is a huge problem in the US. In 2018, roughly 1 in 15 (14.4 million) people became a victim. Adults aren’t the only ones who have their information stolen, either. In 2017, more than 1 million children fell victim and it cost families upwards of $540 million.
This isn’t just an expensive inconvenience either. It can impact victims for years. They may not be able to secure lines of credit to buy a home or a car. School loans could be out of the question. And, 77.3% of those affected report emotional distress as a result.
So how do you make sure you aren’t a victim? And what can you do if you are?
Criminals who want to steal your identity can go about it in a number of different ways. They might target you at a gas station, online, through data breaches or even in-person by stealing your purse or wallet. While it’s impossible to stay totally safe, there are some steps you can take to secure your information.
- Never leave your purse or wallet in your car.
- Keep your information in a safe place, never carry your Social Security card or birth certificate in your wallet, purse or your car.
- Don’t give your Social Security number to everyone who asks for it. For example, your local library, recreational sports league, and even public schools do not need your number. If you don’t feel comfortable handing it over, don’t do it.
- Beware of phishing scams from people who contact you claiming to be from government agencies. The IRS, for instance, will never initiate contact with you via email or phone.
- Pay for your gas with cash if you can, if not, go inside the store. Skimmers are often placed on gas pumps.
- Monitor your credit reports. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), annualcreditreport.com is the only site authorized to give you the information.
- Shred receipts and paperwork with other identifiable information before you throw it away.
- Install virus software on your computer.
- Do not save your credit card information on store websites.
What to Do if Your Identity Is Stolen
Follow these steps if your identity is stolen.
- Report the identity theft to the FTC.
- Contact the police and file a report.
- Have your credit frozen by contacting Experian, Equifax, National Consumer Telecommunications and Utilities Exchange, TransUnion, and Innovis. It’s free and it’ll prevent thieves from opening a line of credit with your info.
- Report the theft to the IRS.
- Change your passwords.
- Cancel credit and debit cards.
- Open new financial accounts.
Being vigilant and keeping your information safe is the best way to prevent identity theft. But if it happens to you, don’t worry, there’s recourse.
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