Technological advances have made many things easier over the past several years, including opening and maintaining checking, credit, savings and other financial accounts. The internet has granted us the ability to manage our finances without ever leaving the house, saving time and money. However, with this added convenience came a new kind of crime: identity theft and fraud.
Fast becoming a huge headache for victims and law enforcement alike, identity fraud occurs when someone uses a person’s private financial information for monetary gain. This can include, but is not limited to accessing and withdrawing account balances, opening new credit accounts, or even obtaining a loan or mortgage.
The effects of these crimes can take hundreds of man hours to fix, leading to huge amounts of stress and worry for the victim. In many cases, the actual money is never recovered, leaving victims and financial institutions to pick up the pieces. Luckily, there are ways to prevent identity fraud from ever occuring in the first place. By following a few simple financial safeguards, you can greatly reduce the risk of someone gaining unauthorized access to your personal information.
One of the most important things you can do is keep a close record of your financial activity. This includes keeping a check register and being maticulous about logging your spending. You can then use your personal records and compare them against your monthly statements. In the event of a problem, the sooner you notice, the better.
In order to reduce mail fraud, you can also switch your accounts to receive online statements instead of the traditional mailed paper records. This greatly reduces the risk of someone obtaining your account information. Also, if you choose to receive paper statements, either shred unneeded documents or store them in a secure location inside your home. There are also many tools available to help you keep digital records of your finances via your computer.
Keeping your information safe is another vital step towards protecting your identity. This includes your pin numbers, account and social security numbers, and any other personally identifying information. If you use online banking, choose a secure, hard-to-guess password that varies by each site you visit to limit the damage in the event someone gains access to one account.
One of the most important things you can do is keep an eye on your credit record. Unfortunately, you may not always be notified when someone (or you, for that matter) opens a new account in your name. Without checking your credit file, you may not realize that identity fraud has occurred for months or even years after the incident, leaving you with little recourse. By keeping an eye on your credit report and score, you can keep tabs on all open accounts and know exactly when an account is opened or used without your prior consent.
Clearly, the best step towards dealing with identity fraud is prevention, and with a little careful planning, you can greatly reduce your risk, thus protecting both yourself and your family.