Protect Yourself from Identity Theft
January 16, 2009
Identity theft is on the rise and people must be vigilant not only protecting their personal information, but monitoring their credit to ensure that they do not fall victim. employeescreenIQ’s Rob Thomson recently authored a great article in our quarterly newsletter, The Verifier, that highlights ways that individuals can protect themselves.
Don’t Let Someone Take Credit For (From) You!- By Rob Thomson
The year 2009 ushers in with it an unprecedented emphasis on personal credit. Economic conditions worldwide may be as difficult as they’ve ever been in most of our lifetimes, and no one can say for sure if we’ve yet hit the bottom. Identity theft is a term we have all become familiar with, and despite the intense focus that has been placed on protecting individual identities, the threat continues to proliferate as identity thieves carry on in refining their methods and developing new and more devious ways to steal identities. If you’ve taken care over the years to cultivate and maintain a strong credit rating, it has never been more valuable than today. Even if it is less than perfect, the last thing you need is someone else wreaking havoc with your credit. The saddest part is that if these criminal minds applied the same level of ingenuity and creativity to legitimate, productive occupations, they would be among the greatest assets to employers!
The most common perceptions of how identity theft happens are still the stolen laptop computer containing a large database of personal information, simple old-fashioned dumpster diving, or email-based phishing scams that sway the unsuspecting into volunteering their own financial account passwords or personal information. Some of these techniques may be within our control to prevent, but some are completely outside our control. Therefore, no one is immune from the potential of having their identity stolen and credit compromised. No matter how many precautions and safety protocols are implemented by companies armed with your personal information, there are that many more criminals out there working to overcome each obstacle.
Is Help Available?
There is no shortage of products and services out there to take your money in exchange for offering varying levels of protection ranging from electronically monitoring your credit to assistance in cleaning up the mess if your identity is breached. The value represented by any given credit protection tool really depends on the individual comfort level you have with keeping tabs on your own information. Monitoring your own credit report on a regular basis is the first key in spotting potential fraudulent activity under your name. Under federal law you are permitted to review your credit report, upon request, once per year from each of the three major national consumer reporting companies (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion).
It is useful to point out a couple of keywords here that can be a bit confusing in the way they apply to accessing credit reports online: “Annual” and “Free”. AnnualCreditReport.com is the official website to help consumers to obtain their free credit report. AnnualCreditReport.com was created by the credit bureaus for the specific purpose of accessing individual free credit reports upon request annually, as required by law. The credit “score” is not part of the free credit report offer, but can be obtained from each credit bureau for an additional one-time fee. There is another website you are probably more familiar with, after having their catchy jingles running through your head for a few hours at a time: FreeCreditReport.com. This website advertises heavily on television and is run by a private company called ConsumerInfo.com. The only way to obtain a “free” credit report from FreeCreditReport.com is to agree to a free trial membership of Triple Advantage (sm) Credit Monitoring. Failure to cancel the trial membership within 9 days results in being billed $14.95 per month on an ongoing basis for the credit monitoring service. This is fine if your intent is to enroll in this service, but some would argue that the trial membership requirement (along with subsequent billing arrangements) is not made as obvious as it should be.