Identity theft is a real threat, and it is one that could harm your financial stability and reputation for years to come. In 2019, it is believed that more than 14.4 million individuals in the U.S. alone were victims of identity theft or fraud. Learning how to prevent identity theft and what to do should it happen to you can save you time and money and reduce your stress.
How Identity Theft Can Hurt You
Victims of identity theft can suffer an emotional and financial toll. Having your identity stolen can contribute to feelings of anxiety, paranoia, anger, and stress; some victims even report developing physical symptoms as the result of identity theft including insomnia, ulcers, and heart palpitations.
On the financial side of things, identity theft can have a lasting negative impact on the health of your finances. When someone steals your identity, they may open new lines of credit in your name, use your accounts to make expensive purchases, file fraudulent tax forms or commit other fraud. While you do have opportunities to dispute some of these acts, the damage done to your credit and financial health may not be easily fixed.
How You Can Prevent It
You can help protect yourself from identity theft in a number of ways. Setting up alerts with your bank and credit card provider(s) can keep you informed when purchases are made; doing so will not only tell you when someone is using your account, it will also help you keep track of your spending.
Employ strong, effective security measures to keep your passwords, SSN, PIN, and other private information secure. Be sure to choose unique passwords for your account and store them somewhere safe. Avoid carrying items like your social security card or birth certificate in your wallet as these can easily be used to commit identity fraud. Never provide personal information over the phone unless you are certain that the voice on the other end belongs to a legitimate individual.
Choosing to freeze your credit with the 3 major credit bureaus is also an important step in preventing the creation of new, fraudulent lines of credit. It will take less than 20 minutes to freeze or unfreeze your credit; this service is provided free of charge.
If you suspect you have been the victim of identity theft, contact your bank(s) and credit card provider(s) as soon as possible to freeze your accounts and report the incidents to the appropriate authorities including your local police and the credit bureaus.
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