With the advent of identity theft, consumers need to find a way to protect themselves. To this end, various methods of identity theft protection have emerged. Three of these services are credit monitoring, credit freezes, and fraud alerts. A person can often allow a company to activate many of these services, but in some cases, he may have to initiate a service himself. Consumers can also help protect themselves by carefully guarding their personal information and being selective to who they release that information.
Credit monitoring is a type of identity theft protection that monitors a person’s credit report. This type of protection can help a person track any changes that are made on his credit. Trouble can emerge, however, if the report from only one credit bureau is monitored because changes made to any of the other reports may not be conveyed to the consumer. While there are services available that monitor all reports, in some areas, a person is entitled to one free report a year from each of the bureaus. It should be noted that the information monitored on a credit report reflects what has already happened and so does not prevent fraud.
In an attempt to prevent an identity thief from opening a new account, a form of identity theft protection known as a credit freeze may be used. A credit freeze is a service that stops many new creditors or lenders from opening an account or checking with a credit report. Any creditor the consumer already deals with, such as a mortgage company, as well as select other companies, may still have access to the report. The drawback of a credit freeze is that not even the consumer would be able to open a new account. In addition, it does not protect accounts that already exist from being targeted by identity thieves.
Much like a credit freeze, a fraud alert is a type of identity theft protection that works to prevent a thief from opening a new account in a consumer’s name. Rather than stop all access to a person’s credit report, it alerts creditors and lenders that the consumer’s identity should be verified before a new account is opened. Fraud alerts can be activated for a period of 90 days or for seven years, if a person can prove he was a victim of fraud. The drawback of this service is that opening a credit card or getting a loan may take longer while the creditor verifies the person’s identity. In addition, some creditors may ignore the alert and so negate the purpose.
Perhaps the best identity theft protection may be for a consumer to protect his personal information. For instance, unless a person initiated the call, he should be suspicious of anyone asking for passwords or account numbers over the phone, even if that person claims to be a bank representative. The individual should refuse to give information, hang up, and call or visit the bank in person before giving personal information. In addition, any mail, such as credit card offers and bills, should be securely stored or shredded before being put in the trash. It may also be wise to be suspicious of emails from any financial institution, and to go directly to the company’s website instead of clicking any links available in the email.