Why Is Identity Theft Protection Important?
With Identity Theft Protection from Equifax, you can be alerted to suspicious activity on your credit reports, monitor your social security number, and get the essentials to keep your identity yours.
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What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft is committed when someone steals your personal information — such as your name, Social Security number and date of birth — typically to hijack your credit and use it to open up new credit accounts, take out loans in your name or access your bank or retirement accounts. An identity thief can even use your personal information to steal your tax refunds, seek medical services or commit crimes in your name.
Once an identity thief has access to your personal information, he or she can also:
- Open new credit card accounts with your name, Social Security number and date of birth. When the thief charges to the credit cards and leaves the bills unpaid, the delinquency will be reported to your credit report and could damage your credit score;
- Contact your active credit accounts and change the email, address, telephone number and password associated with your account. Since bills will be sent to the new address, and you will no longer be the point of contact, you might not realize credit cards bills are being racked up unpaid until you check your account directly or pull a copy of your credit report;
- Open a bank account in your name and write bad checks on the account;
- Create counterfeit checks or debit cards and use them to drain your existing bank accounts;
- File for bankruptcy under your name to avoid paying debts;
- Set up a phone, wireless, or other utility service in your name.
Unfortunately, no consumer is safe from the sophisticated tactics identity thieves use to get their hands on sensitive personal and financial information. That’s why tools that help with identity theft prevention are important because being a victim of identity theft can be financially and emotionally devastating. It often takes months and thousands of missing dollars before people even realize they’ve fallen victim to this fast-growing crime. Once the crime has been discovered, it can take victims years to restore their identities, clean up their credit reports and get their financial lives back on track. Preventing identity theft is far easier than dealing with the aftermath of a devastating attack.
How Does Identity Theft Happen?
Identity theft happens when a criminal obtains your personal information — such as your full name, Social Security number, date of birth and address. Once the criminal has obtained your personal information, he or she can commit identity theft by taking control of your existing credit accounts or opening new ones. Some people refer to this as “identity fraud.”
In exchange for your good name, an identity thief will likely leave you with a mound of debt, a damaged credit score and a tarnished reputation. If your credit score takes a dive as a result of identity theft, you could have a difficult time qualifying for new credit, and even if you do, you’ll likely be charged sky-high interest rates from lenders. The smartest thing you can do is to create a strategy for identity protection that starts with identifying how much at risk you are for identity theft.
Consider some of the common tactics identity thieves use in order to get their hands on your sensitive personal and financial information. Identity thieves have been known to:
- Steal wallets or purses in order to obtain identification, credit and bank cards;
- Dig through mail and trash in search of bank and credit card statements, preapproved credit card offers, tax information and other documents that may contain personal details;
- Fill out change-of-address forms to forward mail, which generally contains a goldmine of personal and financial information;
- Access credit reports by impersonating a landlord or other official who can lawfully obtain credit information;
- Buy personal information from an inside, third party source, such as a company employee who has access to applications for credit;
- Obtain personnel records from a victim’s place of employment;
- “Skim” information from an ATM — this is done through an electronic device, which is attached to the ATM, that can steal the information stored on a credit or debit card’s magnetic strip;
- Swipe personal information that has been shared on unsecured websites or public Wi-Fi;
- Steal electronic records through a data breach;
- “Phish” for electronic information with phony emails, text messages and websites that are solely designed to steal sensitive information;
- Pose as a home buyer during open houses in order to gain access to sensitive information casually stored in unlocked drawers.
While identity thieves often go to extreme lengths to steal information, some of your everyday habits could also make you vulnerable to identity theft, especially those that leave your personal information easily accessible to others.
Are You At Risk for Identity Theft?
Ask Yourself These Four Questions
To enhance your identity theft protection strategy further, regularly monitor your credit report for identity theft red flags. You are entitled to one free copy of your credit report every year from each of the three national credit reporting bureaus. You can access your free credit reports online at annualcreditreport.com. Once you’ve pulled a copy of your credit report, ask yourself the following questions to determine if you could be a victim of identity theft:
If your credit report lists an incorrect name or includes addresses where you have never lived, you could be a victim of identity fraud. A new name, address or other personal information could appear on your credit report if an identity thief has taken out new credit in your name — even if new accounts aren’t yet listed on your credit report.
If a new line of credit that you did not open — such as a credit card or a loan — appears on your credit report, an identity thief may have opened the account in your name.
Do you have an unfamiliar account that is delinquent or in collections, or an account that you opened but didn’t know was overdue?
If an identity thief opens a new credit account in your name, that account will likely end up in collections, since the bills will go unpaid. If an identity thief gains access to one of your existing credit accounts, that could also end up in collections if unpaid bills pile up. If the identity thief is able to forward the bills of a hijacked account to a different address, you may not even realize identity theft has occurred until you check your credit report.
An inquiry is triggered when a creditor with whom you have specifically applied for credit pulls a copy of your credit report. If you do not recognize an inquiry that is listed on your credit report, an identity thief could have applied for a new line of credit under your name, creating a case of identity fraud.
Even the most careful
consumers can fall victim to
Protecting your personal information and regularly monitoring your credit report for identity theft red flags should be important components of your ID theft protection plan. Even the most careful consumers, though, can fall victim to identity theft.
To help protect yourself from identity theft, also consider signing up for a credit and identity monitoring product, such as Equifax’s ID Patrol®. Equifax’s ID Patrol, as well as other identity monitoring services, will monitor your credit report and send you alerts anytime new credit accounts have been opened in your name, balances have changed or other credit activity has been updated. Some identity monitoring products will include identity theft insurance, and others will allow you to monitor your children’s identities to ensure they don’t fall victim to the crime.
The early detection of identity theft is an important part of an effective ID theft prevention plan. The ability to receive regular updates about your credit history and financial identity could help you detect identity theft before it gets out of hand. Falling victim to identity fraud can take a significant financial and emotional toll on your life, and it can take years to restore your identity and repair your credit and financial histories.
How Can I Protect Myself from Identity Theft?
To help protect yourself from identity theft, you have to understand how identity thieves operate. Some of your everyday habits could put you at greater risk of the crime — without your knowledge.
You may cancel at any time; however, we do not provide partial month refunds.1Buy Now
Here are some identity protection top tips:
- Never carry more credit cards in your wallet than you actually need, in case your wallet is lost or stolen.
- Store all mail and financial statements that contain your personal information in a secure location, and shred financial documents you no longer need.
- Remember to create strong passwords for all online accounts to avoid becoming the victim of an online hack and use a unique password for each new account you create.
- Never use your birthday, your name or the word “password” as a password for any online account.
As you work on creating an identity theft protection strategy to keep your personal and financial information secure, consider these common mistakes that could make you an easy target for an identity thief:
- Letting mail and financial statements pile up around the house;
- Carrying all of your credit and bank cards in your wallet at the same time;
- Creating passwords that contain your name, birth date, your pet’s name or other information that could easily be found or guessed;
- Using the same password for multiple online accounts, such as your email, online banking account or favorite shopping website;
- Sharing the passwords to your smartphone, email, social media networks and other online accounts with others — even your family and friends.
- Using the word “password,” or the numbers “12345678” as the password for your online accounts.
Never use your birthday,
your name or the word
“password” as a password
for any online account.
Are My Children at Risk From Identity Theft?
Even children are vulnerable to identity theft. They are often targeted by identity thieves (the vast majority of whom are family members or close family friends, which is how they gain access to the child’s personal financial information) because their credit histories are clean, in that they typically don’t have a credit history and carry no debt. As a result, children provide identity thieves with a blank slate from which they can apply for credit and take out loans. Oftentimes, children will not realize they have become victims of identity theft until years later when a credit report is pulled when they rent their first apartment or they apply for their first credit card or auto loan.
Here’s how to help protect your children from identity theft:
Make sure you keep any financial documents related to your children in a safe place. This includes their social security cards, green cards, state identity cards (especially if they feature your children’s social security numbers), medical insurance cards, bank and other financial account statements, birth certificates, child custody documents and any other legal documents. These documents contain identifying information that you should carefully protect in a secure environment.
Typically, your child should not have an official credit profile until he or she turns 18, so you cannot regularly check their credit profile independently. However, as part of the Equifax Family Plan credit monitoring program, you can monitor their credit profiles for any potential fraudulent activity.
You may cancel at any time; however, we do not provide partial month refunds.1Buy Now
The Equifax Family Plan includes:
- Monitor up to two adult credit histories and up to four minor children’s credit histories;
- Daily credit file monitoring and alerts to any key changes to your Equifax, Experian or Transunion credit files
- Privacy monitoring and protection reveals information that exists about you on the Internet 2
- Internet scans for your personal information with alerts if it is found on suspicious websites 3
- Financial Alerts provide alerts to changes in your credit card and bank account balances emailed or texted directly to your smartphone (for up to 2 accounts)
- Alerts on activity against your child's Equifax credit file
- 3-Bureau credit scores and profiles from Equifax once every 12 months
Equifax 3-Bureau credit scores are based on an Equifax® Credit Score model and are not the same scores used by 3rd parties to assess your creditworthiness.4
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1 We will require you to provide your payment information when you sign up. We will immediately charge your card the stated price above and will charge the card that amount for each month you continue your subscription. You may cancel at any time; however, we do not provide partial month refunds.
2 Privacy monitoring, powered by Reputation.com, Inc., searches Internet sites to attempt to find the consumer's personal information on the Internet and, if you purchase Equifax Complete Premier or Equifax Complete Family Plan, the feature will also include removal of the information. However, there is no guarantee that Privacy Monitoring is able to locate and search every possible internet site where consumers' personal information is being displayed. In addition, certain data companies may not honor requests sent regarding removal and data cannot be removed from those sites.
3 Equifax's Internet scanning feature, WebDetect, will scan for your Social Security number (if you choose to) and up to 6 major credit/debit card numbers you provide. WebDetect scans thousands of internet sites where consumers' personal information is suspected of being bought and sold, and is constantly adding new sites to those it searches. However, the Internet addresses of these suspected internet trading sites are not published and frequently change, so there is no guarantee that WebDetect is able to locate and search every possible internet site where consumers' personal infomration is at risk of being traded.
4 The credit scores provided under the offers described here use the Equifax Credit Score, which is a proprietary credit model developed by Equifax. The 3-Bureau scores are each based on the Equifax Credit Score model, but calculated using the information in your Equifax, Experian and TransUnion credit files. The Equifax Credit Score is intended for your own educational use. It is also commercially available to third parties along with numerous other credit scores and models in the marketplace. Please keep in mind third parties are likely to use a different score when evaluating your creditworthiness. Also, third parties will take into consideration items other than your credit score or information found in your credit file, such as your income.
Equifax Complete Premier and Equifax Credit Score are trademarks of and Equifax ID Patrol is a registered trademark of Equifax, Inc.