You should not pay for credit monitoring services as a way to prevent identity theft. In fact, most features in specialty identity theft protection plans are replicable at almost no cost. All it takes is a few hours, and you will be able to replicate most of what these services can offer.
There are many things you can do to prevent identity theft, although only certain efforts will have a real impact. For best results, you should try to build security layers that match everything a credit monitoring and identity theft coverage plan offers.
Here are 10 ways to prevent identity theft, while also removing the need to pay for credit monitoring help!
1) Get your free credit report!
You do not need to pay for credit monitoring to get access to your credit report. In fact, you have the right to obtain a free credit report once a year from each of the bureaus. You can do this through AnnualCreditReport.com — this is the only website legally permitted to promote free credit reports to Americans!
For best results, space out your requests so you can review your credit report every four months.
2) Place a Credit Freeze
A credit freeze will stop an identity thief from being able to open a new account in your name. It’s a security freeze that locks down your credit report. If a new lender wants to pull your file, you must request a temporary lift of your report or get it lifted just for that creditor. No one else will be able to trigger a lift of your credit freeze, unless they know your PIN number.
Depending on the credit freeze laws in your state, it could cost nothing to as little as $3, and as much as $20, to place and/or lift a credit freeze. You should find your state’s credit freeze laws before requesting it; regardless, make sure you file the freeze request individually with each of the credit report bureaus.
3) Monitor Your Social Security Number (SSN)
If you do not already have a my Social Security account, there are many reasons why you should create one. The most notable would be the Social Security statement you get, which details anywhere your SSN was used. Yes, this is the equivalent of the SSN monitoring offered by many credit monitoring as a means to prevent identity theft. With it, you can catch any instances where your number was given for civil court cases, criminal confrontations, medical procedures, and much more.
Note: If your SSN was compromised, avoid identity theft risks by requesting a new one on the Social Security Administration website.
4) Put an End to Mailbox Dangers
If you have a typical mailbox, it’s a good idea to invest in a lock for it. An even better ‘plan of action’ would be to get a PO box at your nearest post office. This will help a lot to prevent identity theft around tax season. It also helps you to avoid identity theft in general, as it makes your information harder to obtain.
If you cannot get a PO box, at least lower your exposure to sensitive mail. Go to OptOutPreScreen.com and request that you get removed from the mailing list that gets shared by the credit report bureaus.
5) Never Stop Learning!
As a beginner trying to identity theft prevention strategies, there are many common sense factors that you might not understand. This is why it’s important that you take the time to learn more than just what you find here.
You can find a lot of fundamental advice in Elite Personal Finance’s lengthy guide ‘100 Ways to Prevent Identity Theft’. Once you get more experienced, subscribe to Robert Siciliano’s blog and keep an eye for new posts — he is an identity theft expert, as well as an author for McAfee.
6) Place a 90-Day Fraud Alert
If you are against the credit freeze option, then it’s recommended that you at least place a 90-day fraud alert on your credit file. This can be done by notifying one of the three credit report bureaus of the request; once the initial fraud alert is processed, the receiving bureau will advise the other two to do the same.
The 90-day fraud alert will advise prospective lenders to contact you to verify your identity. This is done by placing a notation on your credit file to inform the creditors that your identity could be compromised. The problem is that lenders do not have to contact you, so it is not a 100% effective prevention tactic.
Remember, if you do place a 90-day fraud alert, it’s important to make a note on your calendar of when it needs to be renewed.
7) Create a Wallet Backup
If your wallet ever gets lost or stolen, there is no guarantee the contents will not end up in the hands of an identity thief. This is why you need to have an easy-to-access list of the various cards, licenses, and other important information, that can be found in your wallet.
Keep an updated list of your wallet’s contents, including card numbers and contact lines. If you lose your wallet, contact each company on the list and let them know before any damage gets done.
8) Shelter Yourself Online
You need to be careful about what people can find out about you online. The most detailed pieces of information are found in online whitepages, reverse lookup directories, VPN and other online services providers. If you remove yourself from your local directory, most of these websites will not have access to your details anymore.
From time to time, it’s a good idea to search for your name (with location details) in Google. If you have a unique name, you could even set up a Google Alerts for it. Your information might show up in search results if you sign up for a junk mail list, or if it was shared in a hacking forum data leak.
9) Use Your Bank’s Mobile App
Online banking helps, but a mobile app will keep you in full control over your bank account. It might even be possible to set up various types of security alerts, depending on which bank you use. Just make sure to keep an eye on your account every day — watch out for any transactions that should not be there.
You might not prevent identity theft this way, but the faster you know the quicker you act and that makes all the difference when restoring your identity.
10) Freeze Your Empty File
If you have no interest in building credit, do not be fooled by thinking that identity theft cannot affect you. Even those with no borrowing history are at risk of becoming victims–in fact, minors are targeted the most because of this reason.
If there is no credit report tied to your SSN, then make one and freeze it to prevent identity theft from becoming a risk. Otherwise, it just takes a single credit application using your SSN to allow an identity thief to control your report without your knowledge.
Conclusion: You Can Avoid Identity Theft for Free!
If you want to prevent identity theft, do not bother with credit monitoring services. It’s really just a service that benefits you if you are looking to boost your credit score. To avoid identity theft, you need specialized services that you can actually do yourself!
Therefore, you must take initiative and better your personal security. The framework is there for you to do so, which means it’s just a matter of making the effort.
Before you start, you should also read our post on ‘What to Do in Case of Identity Theft’ to know how to handle it if it does happen to you!
Featured photo credit: 10 Ways to Prevent Identity Theft via google.com