I just landed in Charlotte after a weekend of celebrating one of my best friend’s weddings when a voicemail popped up on my phone. It was my credit card company:
Hello, this is Ian Identity from BarClay Card Services calling about your US Airways Dividend MasterCard. It appears there has been some “fraudulent activity” on your account. Please contact us immediately.
Not a big deal. This has happened before and would probably happen again. After further investigation, the charges occurred online and were indeed fraudulent. I canceled my card, requested a new one and moved on with my life.
Or so I thought…
The next day I received a call from my bank:
Hello, this is Sally Security from 53rd bank. It appears someone has attempted to log into your account from an unknown location. Fortunately, they were unsuccessful after repeatedly failing to answer your security questions.
I could literally feel my blood pressure rising as she went over the process of freezing my account. In the matter of minutes, more calls came in! Bank of America. PayPal. They even locked me out of my Gmail!
After spending upwards of 48 hours trying to sort through this mess, and verify my own identity to Google, I was was enraged. It turns out, the culprit had all my personal information – including my social security number. 🙁
~ 50% of Americans adults have had their personal information exposed over the past year. Below is some information that may help you avoid future headaches from identity theft!
Use different passwords and update them regularly
Sadly, I used the same username an password for almost every site. Even worse, I hadn’t updated them in YEARS.
While frequently changing your password is a hassle, it’s worth the extra security and piece of mind!
Activate 2 step verification
An extra layer of security for your online accounts, 2 step verification is a great way to drastically decrease the chances of having your personal information stolen. After signing into your account, you’ll be asked for a code – sent to you via text, voice call, or a mobile app – before gaining full access.
Only purchase from secure websites
Before you prepare to enter any sensitive information online, make sure the website has “https://” in it’s URL. The addition of the “s” means the website has an added security layer, making it safe to purchase from online.
Consider identity theft protection
There are a number of companies that offer identity theft protection services – which help you monitor your accounts.
Here is a list of the top 10 options available.
If your personal information is stolen:
Place an initial fraud alert
Inform 1 of the 3 credit reporting companies that you are a victim of identity theft and ask them to place an initial fraud alert on your credit report. They are required to inform the other 2 companies by law. The alert is free, lasts 90 days and is renewable.
File a police report
While identity theft criminals are hard to find, you may need this report to file an extended fraud alert or place a credit freeze.
Set secondary passwords
Many banks allow you to set a secondary, verbal password they will be required to ask you before discussing account information over the phone. This provides an extra layer of protection from someone attempting to call your bank and impersonate you.
Consider an extended fraud alert or credit freeze
An extended fraud alert lasts 7 years while the time period of a credit freeze is determined by individual state law.
If you get your wallet stolen, an initial fraud alert should be enough. However, if someone has all your personal information, I’d recommend looking into these options further!
Unfortunately, since my identity was stolen I haven’t seen any additional payments on my student loans… 😉
All joking aside, the criminals who steal identities are ruthless. Even worse, the process to re-secure your identity is an absolute nightmare! Learn from my mistake and take the proper precautionary measurements to ensure the safety of your identity today!
Credit reporting companies:
- Equifax: (800)525-6285
- Experian: (888)397-3742
- TransUnion: (800)680-7289