With the ongoing insurgence fraud and scams targeting consumer credit, it’s more important than ever to be extra diligent around your credit and identity. Even here in southern Maine, where many feel isolated from some of the more sophisticated scams we hear about on the national news, it still occurs, probably more often than we think. There are six major categories of identity theft:
- Employment/tax-related fraud
This occurs when an individual uses someone else’s social security number to attempt to gain employment or file a fraudulent income tax return.
- Credit/Debit card fraud
This occurs when a fraudster attempts to use someone else’s credit or debit card number to make purchases.
- Phone or utilities fraud
This occurs when a criminal uses another person’s personal information to set up a phone or utility account.
- Bank fraud
This happens when an individual uses someone else’s information to either take over an existing financial account or open a new one.
- Loan or lease fraud
This occurs when a criminal uses someone else’s information to get a new loan or lease.
- Government documents or benefits fraud
This occurs when someone uses another individual’s personal information to gain access to government benefits.
The frequency of identity theft occurring continues to grow, with nearly 17 million people impacted by it in 2017. That amounted to $16.8 billion stolen. With that amount on the line, it’s no surprise that these criminals continue to try to scam and impersonate individuals to steal their hard-earned money. So what can you do to help reduce the chance of you falling victim to identity theft?
Freeze your credit – and your children’s credit.
Federal law recently changed to allow adults to freeze their credit with the three major credit reporting agencies for free, as well as be able to freeze their children’s (to age 16) credit for free as well. A credit freeze helps protect you or your children against unauthorized access to your credit file, until you unfreeze your credit with a preselected PIN. Examples of reasons to unfreeze your credit would be to apply for a loan, are being screened as a potential new tenant, applying for a job or buying insurance, among other things. Below you will find information on how can freeze your own credit, as well as your children’s.
To freeze your credit, you will need to contact each of the major credit reporting agencies separately: Equifax, Experian and Transunion. This government site lists the contact information for each.
To freeze your children’s credit, each credit reporting agency requires to you mail in a form with specific information for your child. That information can be found at the links below:
- Equifax: Follow the instructions on this form and mail to the address listed.
- Experian: Follow the instructions on this form.
- Transunion: Follow the instructions found here to mail in a request to freeze a minor’s credit.
It’s important to remember that you should retain all original documents. If a credit bureau requires documentation, send them copies, and keep the originals in a secure place. While freezing your credit doesn’t guarantee that your identity is secure, it is an important step in limiting the possibility.