Here’s a frightening fact: 10 million people have had their identity stolen.  How thieves get a hold of your information varies, and as a consumer, it’s import to know how to protect yourself.

With credit monitoring services becoming as prevalent as bankruptcy services, it is important to know how to safeguard your credit, finances and identity.

There are three main credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. They monitor your credit for about $60 to $180 per year and check your credit report for unusual changes.

As a consumer, you should check your own credit report for free once a year by visiting annualcreditreport.com.  For many people, the peace of mind of having the extra monitoring service may be worth the price tag for their time saved from doing it themselves. 

Lifelock is another company that monitors your credit, but it also looks at how your credit is being used and investigates if your Social Security number has been compromised and being used fraudulently. If you are afraid you’re at risk of credit fraud or identity theft, it might be a good idea to use a company that does more than monitor your credit report.

A recent study by Javelin Research found the use of credit monitoring services has plummeted 42% since 2008. Some experts cite the decline in hysteria over fraud and identity for the decreased monitoring. But that’s not the only reason: Many consumers are not willing to spend the $150 to $200 a year for the protection, especially if they have never been a victim of fraud or identity theft and can get the information for free.

Victimization is a key element to the credit monitoring industry’s marketing. The themes of their ads are mostly the same: They spread fear and proclaim that the consequences of not using their services could be financially devastating.

The truth is, they could be right, but how many identities are being stolen? According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, the amount of records violated has fallen a whopping 90% since 2009. Those numbers have diminished the impact of the “nightmare scenario” messages that the credit monitoring industry has been broadcasting, and making consumers much less nervous of being a victim.   

To prevent identity fraud, incorporate the following tips into your lifestyle to reduce the chances of having your identity stolen: 

  1. Get a paper shredder so no one can piece together important information
  2. Do not carry your Social Security card
  3. Get an unlisted telephone number and register for the “Do Not Call” list. Cutting off telemarketers lessens your chances to become a victim
  4. Never give out your Social Security number unless it is absolutely necessary. If you do give out the nine-digit number, know who will be using and for what purposes as well as their privacy policy
  5. Don’t write your Social Security number on checks
  6. Protect you PIN numbers. Cover the key pad when you enter your pin number at the ATM and never tell anyone what the numbers are
  7. Many people think cutting up credit cards and not canceling them is better for your credit score. While that may be true, you run the risk of people making counterfeit cards if you lose track of how many accounts you have open
  8. Write “check ID” on the back of your credit cards instead of signing them
  9.  Do not keep credit cards, bills, checks, or any personal information in your car
  10. Buy a safe or get a safety deposit box at the bank where you can keep important documents.

 

As always when it comes to financial matters, do your research, ask questions and make certain that if you are going to sign up for such services the company can protect you – your identity is on the line.

 

Howard Dvorkin, CPA, is the founder of Consolidated Credit Counseling Services, Inc., and the author of Credit Hell: How To Dig Out of Debt.   He is also personal finance expert and consumer advocate who has been helping people for more than 15 years.