Identity theft is one of the most common crimes these days, with millions of Americans affected each year. All a criminal needs to obtain is your name, Social Security number, and birthday, and they can wreak havoc on your life for their own gain.
One common scenario is that you file your taxes, only to receive this error message: “Sorry, we cannot accept your return. You have already filed a tax return this year”. And yet, you know you definitely did not file your taxes until now.! What happened? In most cases this is an indication that a criminal gained access to your personal information, filed a fraudulent tax return in your name, and pocketed the refund.
Fake credit card accounts are another common problem. Once a criminal has obtained your Social Security number, name, and date of birth, they can easily open a credit card account in your name. You might not even know that these accounts exist.! The criminals don’t pay the bills, of course, so you might discover these fraudulent accounts months or years later when your credit score plummets.
Some more tech-savvy con artists can even take your existing credit card numbers, print a duplicate of your credit or debit card, and use that card to make purchases on your account. You might not notice this behavior unless you keep a close eye on your account statements. You could be paying for a criminal’s lifestyle without even knowing it!
Luckily there is one very important step you can take to protect yourself from identity theft. Subscribe to a credit protection service, that notifies you any time someone applies for a credit account in your name. Or, at the very least, check your own credit report three to four times per year to make sure no one has obtained a credit card in your name. Look for account names that you don’t recognize, and report these problems to credit bureaus and the credit card companies immediately when they surface.
And, as always, keep an eye on those credit and debit card statements. It’s easier to do when you check your online statements every regularly, or at least once per week. That way you can report suspicious activity immediately and protect your hard earned money and credit rating.