What is identity theft and why is it so important to protect against? You’ve heard about the recent Equifax security breach, but why is it such a big deal?

Identity theft occurs when someone wrongfully gains access to your personally identifiable information – Social Security Number, date of birth, address, driver license number and credit history. That information can be used to file a fraudulent tax return in your name, open a credit card account, or create a fake driver license. They can even purchase property and take out a mortgage in your name, or worse, give your information to the police if arrested.

Another level of identity theft is stealing your credit card information or getting access to your online bank account, Paypal, Amazon and other accounts from which they can either take money or make fraudulent purchases.

Any one of these things can have damaging effects on you. The three credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian and Trans Union – each maintain databases with your personally identifiable information, credit histories and account numbers. So when their database is compromised, the damage can be widespread and long-lasting.

So, here it is about a month after the Equifax breach. My wife opened her credit card statement to find ... you guessed it, a fraudulent charge made right around the time of the Equifax breach.

So, what can you do? First, monitor your credit report and statements from your bank and credit cards to make sure no one is stealing from you or opening accounts in your name. Scrutinize every charge. Everyone should be getting their statements about now which will reflect any fraudulent charges resulting from the Equifax breach. If there is something you don't recognize, call your bank or credit card company to report it. You usually only have 30-60 days to report fraudulent charges.

You also want to monitor whether new accounts were created. This is done by frequently checking your credit report. If you see fraudulent activity, especially by someone opening a new loan account, you may need to report it to the local police.

Second, you can put a stop to all activity on your credit history and have some peace of mind by getting a credit freeze. It can be inconvenient, but it puts a stop to any attempts to fraudulently open new accounts. This doesn't prevent fraudulent charges on existing accounts, which is why you still need to be vigilant.

 


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    Climbing the Money Tree


    Author

    R. Joseph Ritter, Jr. CFP® is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER(TM) and founder of Zacchaeus Financial Counseling, Inc., a non-profit organization providing financial planning services to low-income households and households experiencing financial strain.

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