Keep Your Credit Guard Up

Five months ago, when hackers accessed personal information of about 40 million Target customers, including names, card numbers, card expiration dates, card security codes and debit card PINs, the public became very aware of the dangers of identity theft.

In fact, almost half (45.9%) of shoppers surveyed by credit giant TransUnion at the time said they were worried about becoming identity theft victims.

How It Works

Credit identity thieves use your stolen information to apply for credit in your name, leaving you to deal with angry creditors and collectors.

And it's not just your own identity that could be compromised: children and the elderly can also be targets of identity theft, so look out for communications from creditors or debt collectors to your children or to relatives in your care.

To protect yourself, Julie Springer, vice president at TransUnion, one of three national credit bureaus, advises checking your credit reports and credit card statements year-round to spot signs of suspicious activity that could signal you have been the victim of identity theft, such as:

  • Unfamiliar activity—Look for new and unfamiliar accounts. If you see that unauthorized or unfamiliar activity has occurred, contact the credit bureau that issued the report right away.
  • Unexpected charges—Review each charge on credit and bank statements and call your bank or credit card company to question any purchase that you don't recall making.
  • Contact from creditors or bill collectors—Identity thieves can use your identity to open accounts and make purchases, leaving you with the bills.
  • Not being able to access online accounts—If you suddenly can't access bank or credit card account websites, contact your financial institutions immediately. Someone may have stolen your passwords in an attempt to take over your accounts.

Order Your Free Report

Every consumer in the U.S. may order a free credit report every 12 months from each of the nationwide consumer credit reporting companies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

AnnualCreditReport.com is the official site where you can request your free credit report. To ensure that you are visiting the legitimate site, type https://www.annualcreditreport.com directly into the address bar on your browser or call 877-322-8228.

And if you think you've been the victim of identity theft, contact the Federal Trade Commission through its website or by calling 877-ID-THEFT. The FTC can help you determine what steps to take to remedy the situation and restore your credit.

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