Cleaning up your finances after having your identity stolen can be a nightmare.
Becoming a victim of identity theft is becoming more common. In 2016 alone, over 1.1 billion identities were exposed via data breaches.
What can you do to minimize the risk of identity theft? Try these methods:
1. Get your free credit report.
You could be a victim of identity theft and not even know it unless you have your credit report. And since you can now get an annual credit report for free, there’s no excuse not to stay on top of your history.
Once you have your credit report, look for any new accounts that were open without your knowledge. While you’re at it, check to see if there are any errors on your report.
If there are, contact the company and credit bureaus to get them removed so you can increase your score.
Besides new accounts, odd inquiries into your credit history could be another sign that your identity has been stolen. Report any suspicious activity as soon as you see it.
Even if it ends up being legitimate, you’re better off being safe than sorry.
2. Freeze your credit.
A credit freeze makes it impossible for others to access your credit file. Since banks, credit card companies, and creditors need to see your history before making a lending decision, they won’t be able to open up new accounts once a freeze is in place.
To freeze your credit, you’ll have to contact the Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion credit bureaus and make the request.
A freeze will not affect your credit score, plus it’s free. You will have to unfreeze your credit when you want to open a new account, however.
It won’t protect existing accounts, either.
3. Lock your credit.
A credit lock prevents everyone, including you, from making any changes to your credit file.You can unlock your credit instantly and manage it via an app or website.
While a credit freeze is free, a lock can cost around $20 per month per credit reporting agency, making it one of the most expensive security options around.
4. Set up a fraud alert.
This free service places a 90-day alert on your account. If a company wants to offer new credit, they’ll have to contact you first to verify your identity so they can see your report.
Not only is a fraud alert free, but it’s also simple to activate. Just contact one of the three credit reporting agencies, and they’ll contact the other two.
5. Sign up for a credit monitoring service.
If protecting your identity is a significant concern, you could link up with a credit monitoring service.
Credit Sesame is an example of such a service that will let you see your credit report and alert you if any changes occur. For instance, if a hacker tries to open a new account in your name, you’ll know about it when it happens.
As a bonus, the service will also give you tips and tricks to help improve your credit score.