As you rush to get last-minute gifts, dinner preparations and flights home for the holidays, squeeze in some time to protect yourself from hungry identity thieves and hackers. With credit monitoring, credit security freezes, and some good ol’ fashioned financial awareness, you can minimize damages even if your identity thief is sitting right next to you.
Axton Betz-Hamilton was unaware her identity had been stolen, and that she had been eating Thanksgiving dinner with her identity thief for 19 years. She first discovered she had been victimized when she moved off-campus at her college, tried to set up her utilities, and the utility provider asked for a $100 deposit. She learned quickly, she told ABC News, that her “credit report was 10 pages long, and [her] credit score was 380.”
Betz-Hamilton assumed her identity had been stolen with her parents’, as they were victims of identity theft in 1993, but after her mother died in 2013 she discovered the truth. Pamela Betz had stolen not only her daughter’s identity but had stolen her husband’s and father-in-law’s identities as well.
She recalled to ABC News, “She had a lot of purses and backpacks, and that’s where she stored the paper trail. It was also between dresser drawers. Papers were folded and shoved into books… I have no idea what she was up to. Maybe she had a second life. She had been using multiple names. I’m still looking.”
Unfortunately, stories of identity theft are much more common than you’d think. According to Javelin Strategy & Research, in 2017 6.64% of consumers (or about 1 in 15 people) became victims of identity fraud. Whether a family member or friend steals your identity, or you become a victim through a data breach, it’s important that you take some steps to protect you and your family from identity thieves
Ways You Can Protect Yourself
Freeze your Credit
Contacting the bureaus to place a ‘freeze’ on your account will prevent companies from being able to request your credit report without verifiably obtaining your approval. This makes it difficult for an identity thief to open a new account in your name without having complete control of all of your contact information as well. While a credit freeze will not affect your credit score, and it will not stop you from opening a new account or applying for an apartment or rental home, you will be responsible for temporarily lifting the freeze so that the party you’re applying with can access your credit information. If you choose this method, you’ll also need to contact each credit bureau to freeze/unfreeze your credit.
If you’re concerned that someone might steal your child’s identity, you can create a credit file for your child (if not already present) and place a security freeze on it. Once they become an adult, they can request for the freeze to be lifted.
Where to Freeze your Credit Profile
Change your PIN Number
Unfortunately, during a busy buying holiday shopping season, credit card theft can fly under the radar. Check your bank balance regularly and strategically view your free annual credit report after the Winter holidays. If you used a credit or debit card during Black Friday or Cyber Monday sales, change your PIN number to keep your information safe from data hacks.
Credit monitoring can ensure you stay up-to-date on your personal credit information and receive notifications if something appears wrong, or if any new accounts are opened in your name. From credit score updates to data breach scans, this tool can not only help protect your identity, but also help you learn what to do to increase your credit score.
While If you still have some last-minute online holiday shopping to do, be sure to choose legitimate stores and update your computer’s firewall. Before inputting any sensitive information (credit cards, addresses, etc.) be sure to check the company’s website shows ‘https’ which signals it is a Secure website. Even if a hacker or sketchy retailer can’t steal your identity, they can still wreak havoc on your credit score. Whether a family member steals your identity or a retailer gets hacked, both can significantly hurt your financial future if you don’t have the proper precautions in place.
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