Protecting your identity and financial future

Yes, it is alarming that the Equifax data breach may have exposed more than half the adults in this country to identity theft and financial fraud. Names, social security numbers, birthdates and other information including some credit card numbers were stolen from their data system. During the first half of 2017 there were 791 separate data breaches; and the Identity Theft Resource Center estimated there would be over 1,500 total by the end of the year. We should all be on high alert.

Unfortunately, there have been so many data breaches in recent months and years, people are becoming numb and complacent. This is not the time to be so preoccupied with football, politics, or life in general to postpone taking action to protect your personal information and finances. A 2017 survey in the wake of the massive Equifax data breach last September found that 26 percent of respondents reviewed their credit scores or credit reports within two weeks of the breach. However, the survey also found that even in the wake of the breach that exposed the information of nearly 146 million Americans’ names, Social Security numbers and addresses, 21 percent have never checked their credit reports or credit scores.

Prevention is always the first step. Be extra cautious and careful. Guard your wallet and purse, your car and home from theft. Do not carry your Social Security or Medicare card in your wallet. Don’t fall for the fake phone calls, email scams and popups on your computer. Use updated firewall and virus protection software on your computer, tablet and smart phone to prevent problems. Use strong passwords comprised of upper and lower case letters, numbers and other characters; and don’t keep them in a password notebook in your top desk drawer. Protect your incoming and outgoing mail from sitting in an unsecured mail box outside your house. Shred everything with personal information and account numbers before putting it into your trash. However, even with the most prudent actions we all can be victims when it comes to determined thieves.

The most important step each person should take is to request and read their credit report at least once a year from each of the three nationwide credit reporting agencies. Everyone is entitled to get one free copy each 12 months from each agency. You may use the website operated by the Federal Trade Commission at to request the reports. Or, you may contact each credit bureau separately: Equifax at 800-685-1111 or; Experian at 888-397-3742 or; and TransUnion at 800-916-8800 or You may download the reports immediately to your computer or request a copy be mailed to you. If you receive notice of your personal information being involved in a data breach or you discover you are indeed a victim of identity theft or fraud, you can and should request another free credit report immediately.

Inform yourself of the importance of your credit report, by requesting the Colorado State University fact sheet 9.141 and the simple steps you can take to check and protect your records. Look for any incorrect information or accounts that are not yours as you read your report. Contact the credit reporting agency and the company where there is a fraudulent account immediately to report the fraud.

The next step if your information is involved in a data breach or if you are a victim of identity fraud is to place a fraud alert on your credit reports. You do this by calling one of the credit reporting agencies. They will place a free 90-day fraud alert on your file; and they will automatically notify the other two agencies to do the same. This action requires a company to verify any transactions with a second I.D. or to verify with you the release of your credit report to any new inquiries.

Close any account tampered with or established fraudulently. Ask for verification by letter or email on disputed accounts and fraudulent debts. Keep copies of documents and records of all conversations and correspondence about the theft.

Two more steps are important in defending and correcting your financial credit report. You should file a police report on any fraudulent action, such as fraudulent use of your existing credit or bank accounts or the opening of a new credit account in your name. Get a copy of the police report and case number, because you will likely need it as you continue to work to clear your records. You should also file an identity theft complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at to report and support your written statement with the credit bureaus.

If your Social Security number is used fraudulently, notify the Social Security Administration Fraud Hotline at 1-800-269-0271. You may request your SS Earnings Report using this form

Credit alerts and freezes will not deter non-credit frauds such as tax refund theft and health insurance fraud. For that, we are simply told to be vigilant, probably for the rest of our lives. The Federal Trade Commissions has dedicated the week of Jan. 29—Feb. 2, 2018 as Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week. Fraudsters in possession of a valid name and Social Security number frequently create phony W-2s and related forms in search of a quick refund. In 2015, the Internal Revenue Service reported were over 1.5 million bogus tax returns filed claiming over $5 billion in refunds. However, some do go through each year undetected.

Tax identity theft happens when someone uses your SS number to get a tax refund or a job. You might find out it’s happened when you get a letter from the IRS saying more than one tax return was filed in your name, or IRS records show you have wages from an employer you don’t know. The best way to prevent tax fraud is to file your federal and state income tax return as early as possible.

Any identity theft and fraudulent actions have a negative impact on your personal credit history, your peace of mind, your health and your financial future. Don’t put it off. Protect yourself today by getting and reading your credit report.