While identity protection companies put the fear of financial ruin in people, the reality is that only 3% of the US population has any financial data stolen (guides.wsj.com) each year. If you are in the small percentage, however, it can wreak havoc in your life. There are several reputable firms that will monitor your accounts and alert you of any suspicious activity, generally for a monthly or annual fee. You can do the same work yourself and provide your own level of asset assurance.
There are five basic steps you can take to protect yourself. These steps are the same ones identity monitoring firms use. They can protect you from identity and credit card theft, as well as check fraud.
Banks, credit card firms and other entities NEVER ask you to confirm your personal or account information online, by phone or by mail
Any financial service company you do business with has this information. If you receive a request such as this, take the extra time to actually call the company that is requesting the information. This allows you to report there is a phishing expedition and allows them to pursue any breaches to their security.
Anything that sounds too good to be true generally is.
Chances are you did not enter a lottery then forgot about it. Take a step back and ask yourself if the scenario sounds legitimate, then delete it and forget about it. Trust your gut no matter how badly you need the money.
Check every bank and credit card statement as soon as they arrive.
Fraudulent charges must be reported within a specific period of time in order to have them removed from your account. Often thieves will start with small charges or withdrawals they hope will be overlooked, escalating into major expenses that can empty your bank account or ruin your credit. A few minutes now saves hours of work later.
Keep every financial document in a secure location
This includes statements, blank checks, tax returns and credit/debit cards. Any document containing your address, phone number, account number, SSN or other sensitive information should be shredded.
Review your credit report annually
Each credit reporting agency must provide you with a credit report annually for free. Spread out the requests, say one in January, one in May and one in November. Immediately contact the agency if you spot any errors. These can be time consuming to correct, but the longer the error is on the report, the longer it takes to correct.
These five steps can provide you with asset assurance and keep your finances and identity safe.
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