For homebuyers, having a good credit score is an important part of the mortgage process, and it can save you you thousands of dollars over the life of your loan.
While you can build a good credit score with a range of strategies, including paying your bills on time and using a secured credit card, all Americans are at risk of something that severely damages credit scores: identity theft.
Identity theft levels reached an all-time high in 2016, with 15.4 million people impacted (up from from 13.1 million in 2015). This took place in spite of greater identity theft awareness amongst consumers, and efforts from the financial industry to lower consumer risks.
Reduce your chances of identity theft happening to you
Fortunately, there are eight steps you can take to lower your risk of identity theft and help preserve your credit score:
- Use a paper shredder to shred all mail and documents containing your identifying information (such as your bank account, Social Security number, credit card number, address, and phone number).
- Protect your outgoing mail by depositing it in post office collection boxes, and promptly remove incoming mail from your home mailbox.
- Never give your personal information on the phone to unknown individuals asking to verify account numbers (or check your balance).
- Remove excess credit cards from your wallet when traveling.
- Carry your passport or Medicare card only when you need it.
- Check your credit report every year using a free website, and review it closely for fraudulent accounts and charges.
- Save your credit card receipts and review them against your monthly bills for unauthorized charges. Shred these receipts once you’ve verified them.
- Avoid giving your credit card to individuals who can swipe your credit card outside your view (such as restaurant waiters)—when possible, pay cash instead.
Remain aware of warning signs that your information was stolen
Because identity theft can happen to anyone, including individuals trying to prevent it, it’s critical to stay aware of signs that your information was stolen. These can include:
- Withdrawals from your bank account that you can’t explain
- Not receiving expected bills in the mail
- Debt collectors contacting you about debts that aren’t yours
- Unfamiliar accounts and charges in your credit report
- Medical providers billing you for services that you didn’t use
- Your health insurance rejecting a legitimate medical claim because of records showing you’ve reached your benefits limit
- Your medical records showing a condition you don’t have
- Being notified by the IRS that more than one tax return was filed in your name, or that you have income from an employer you have never worked for
Prevention is the best strategy
Identity theft can’t be completely prevented, but you can greatly lower your risks by following the steps in this blog.
Should you learn you’re an identity theft victim, immediately report it through the IdentityTheft.Gov website and follow their checklist of steps to limit and repair the damage.
Some good news: identity theft doesn’t have to ruin your chances of becoming a homeowner. This blog post provides steps on becoming a homeowner if you’re an identity theft victim. If you have further questions on this subject, contact me today!