SAN MATEO, Calif., Nov. 21, 2017 /PRNewswire/ — As travel and online shopping ramp up during the holiday season, the risk of identity theft grows as well – and these common crimes can result in increased cost of debt for people who do not catch the fraud early, warns, Andrew Housser, co-founder and CEO of Freedom Debt Relief.
“Identity theft is traumatic enough in itself,” Housser says. “But when people do not catch the theft quickly, they can face large amounts of accumulating debt in their name,” he explains. “This debt can result in significant damage to credit profiles and scores, which can affect their financial future for months or years.”
Identity theft victimizes more than 17 million people each year in the United States, according to the Department of Justice. Housser provided these tips to avoid becoming one of them.
- Review credit reports. U.S. law entitles consumers to one free copy of their credit reports every year. Visit Annual Credit Report, or call 877-322-8228, to request reports from all three credit bureaus. Misspelled names, incorrect addresses or unfamiliar credit accounts can be warning signs of fraudulent activities. Follow each credit bureau’s instructions to correct errors.
- Use secure passwords. More websites than ever are demanding passwords. Do not give in to the temptation to make passwords easy to remember, or leave them written out in a place that others can be easily see. Instead, consider taking advantage of a secure password management service such as Dashlane or LastPass, or using your computer or smartphone’s secure password management, to produce and manage secure passwords.
- Log on privately. Most websites are shifting to HTTPS protocols that protect users’ connections to their sites. When a computer signals a security alert, proceed with caution. Use password-protected Wi-Fi networks, and consider establishing a VPN (virtual private network) to protect information. Avoid using public networks to access personal information, including passwords, banking and credit card data.
- Keep personal information safe. Do not provide personal information to anyone who calls, texts or contacts you via email, warns Housser of Freedom Debt Relief. Thieves may be trying to “phish” for this information in what is called a phishing scam. Provide personal information only after logging on to a secure website or calling a verified number, such as the contact information on a credit card or statement. Shred financial documents and others that include personal information. Finally, choosing electronic delivery can protect consumer privacy and make tracking financial information easier.
- Use public plug-ins cautiously. Watch for credit and debit card fraud at machines where a criminal has installed a device to “skim” or steal card information, or make a copy for later use. Be cautious, too, with USB charging devices in public places, as criminals have been known to devise ways to hack phones and computers through charging ports.
For those who do experience identity theft, the Federal Trade Commission provides a useful guide to recovering from identity theft.