“There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something.”
Bilbo Baggins the hobbit came home one fine day. He had just had an adventure. Dwarves and elves. Giant spiders. Orcs and Goblins. And a dragon. Needless to say he was ready for a little peace and quiet in his home, Bag End. But he walked in on an estate sale. Apparently, he had been gone so long (about a year), and no one had heard from him, so the authorities declared him presumed dead and were auctioning off his possessions for everything from a few silver pieces to a song (as was not unusual with hobbits). Fortunately, Bilbo had a chest of gold and a chest of silver and was able to buy everything back. But not all stories have such a happy ending.
If someone steals your identity, they may wreak all kinds of havoc with your life and unless you have a chest of gold and all the time in the world to figure it out, putting your life and finances back together may be very tricky. There is one tool you likely do have access to that can help prevent or minimize the affects of someone stealing your information. And it’s right in your wallet. Your credit card!
First, credit cards are almost always the first two know if someone is using one of your cards fraudulently. It has happened to me at least twice, and each time the company alerted me within a day of the use and I haven’t been liable for a dime.
But most credit cards do some cool things well beyond just fraudulent purchase protection. I can tell you from personal experience that everything from Capital One, to Discover, Chase, and American Express all have some form of credit monitoring.
For example, they all offer you weekly or monthly updates of your FICO credit score. Checking your credit score is hugely important to preventing identity theft from ruining your life. If someone opens up a bunch of new accounts in your name, your credit score may be the first thing to know. Just log onto your credit card account online and look for FICO. It’s usually under “Card Benefits.”
Second, some go far beyond a score. For example, when I log into my Chase account, and go to Chase Credit Journey, I can not only see what my FICO score has done, charted out for as long as I’ve had the card, but I can see all the credit factors that go into it, like how many new accounts I have, how many new inquiries I have, and what my credit utilization is. This stuff is all important because if someone gets my social security number and opens up a loan, or a new credit card (and starts piling on the charges), I can (theoretically) see it here! And if I can see it, I can put a stop to it (theoretically). Chase, and other’s, even have a section called “Credit Alerts,” where I see the most recent activity on my credit account. This picks up stuff down to when I move, and how a new address gets registered to my information.
Discover takes this a step further (or they say they do anyway) and check to see if my social security number is out there on the web. This is awesome.
But all these free services have to come with a caveat. I actually have no idea how effective Discover is at doing this. All of these services are free and should be taken advantage of. But nothing, not the free stuff, or the paid identity protection programs are perfect. (Just ask Todd Davis–remember him? The CEO of LifeLock, he put his social security number up as part of an advertising scheme for his ID theft protection company, and proceeded have all sorts of bad stuff happen to his financial identity despite his company’s best efforts.) What I do is check my accounts often, check my credit score often using my credit card accounts, and take action if I think something is amiss.
And if you are ever notified that someone stole your identity, Bankrate created a great 12 step checklist for you:
- Notify Affected Creditors or Banks
- Put a Fraud Alert on your Credit Reports
- Check Your Credit Reports
- Consider a Credit Freeze
- Contact the FTC
- Go to the Police
- Send Creditors a Copy of Your ID Theft Report
- Contact Credit Reporting Agencies
- Change All Account Passwords
- Contact the Social Security Fraud Hotline
- Get a New Driver’s License
- Contact Your Utility and Telephone Companies