IDENTITY THEFT OCCURS when someone uses your name, address, Social Security number and other personal information to borrow money, open a credit card account, take out a loan or commit fraud in some other way.
To guard against identity theft, take the usual precautions: Don’t give out financial information to anybody who calls. Ignore emails that seek account information and never click on embedded links. If you think a call or email could be legitimate, phone the financial institution involved using a number you dig up, not one provided by the caller or in the email. Use strong, complicated passwords—and don’t use the same password for every account. Don’t access sensitive information from a public computer.
Also regularly review the activity on your credit card statements and in your financial accounts. Become concerned if you receive a bill from a company you don’t recognize. That may mean someone has opened an account in your name. In addition, be concerned if you receive a letter saying a loan application has been rejected. That could indicate someone is trying to use your identity to borrow money.
What if you believe you’re a victim of identity theft? Contact the companies where accounts have been opened and ask that they be closed. File a report with the Federal Trade Commission and call the local police to report the crime. Place a fraud alert on your file at the three major credit bureaus. To find out how, go to Equifax.com, Experian.com and TransUnion.com. If you place an initial, 90-day fraud alert in your file at one credit bureau, that bureau should notify the other two bureaus. You might even consider freezing your credit. To learn more about identity theft, check out the Federal Trade Commission’s site at Consumer.FTC.gov.
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