If you’re a college student, you probably have a few numbers on your mind: the number of days until you head to campus, your GPA from last semester, the amount of money you’ll have to spend on furnishing your dorm room this year, etc. But what about your credit score? It could be one of the most important numbers in your life that’s not on your list. Your credit score can impact whether or not you can lease an apartment or whether or not you’re offered your dream job.
Identity theft affects more than just your bank account, and it can impact almost anyone – even babies and loved ones who’ve passed away. Sometimes thieves aren’t even interested in your money, either. Your medical information and criminal background are all fair game to identity thieves.
Different types of identity theft call for different ways to protect your family. And, if a thief already has your information, you’ll need to tailor your approach to resolve the specific issue.
Medical Identity Theft
To protect yourself from medical identity theft, look over your medical bills and insurance statements carefully. If you receive a medical bill with ambiguous information on it, speak with a client care advocate about your bill. If you get a bill for an appointment you never attended, it could be a mistake or someone stealing your insurance benefits.
If you believe someone has stolen your medical information for illicit use, file a report with the Federal Trade Commission, and then contact the police department as soon as possible. After that, contact your insurance company and see if they can temporarily freeze your benefits to prevent further theft.
Furthermore, file a complaint with your insurance company. Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPPA), you have the right to dispute errors on medical bills. Make sure you keep track of the dates you contacted your insurance company, who you spoke with, and what you discussed. This record will help if you need to dispute claims in court.
Criminal Identity Theft
To help prevent criminal identity theft, PrivacyRights.org recommends performing a background check, including your driving record, on yourself. Consider syncing this up with your yearly credit check to get in the habit of looking at it on an annual basis.
If you find that your identity was stolen to commit a crime, go to the police immediately and tell them what happened. PrivacyRights.org suggests one of the first things you should do is ask the police to compare mug shots or physical descriptions of the original suspect to you. If they clearly don’t match, the police should reopen the case.
If the police aren’t willing to work with you, you’ll want to file a report with the Federal Trade Commission. Then consider hiring a lawyer to help you with your case.
Theft of a Deceased Person’s Identity
So how can we protect deceased loved ones from identity theft? BankRate.com suggests keeping sensitive information, like birthdays or maiden names, out of local obituaries. Most of us include that information without thinking about it, but birthdays, names and maiden names are gold for thieves.
Start by getting information about all of the financial institutions your loved one worked with, either by asking them prior to their death or through their credit report after they pass. You should make copies of the death certificate and notify all the financial institutions of the death of the account holder. Also contact the Social Security Administration and complete the required paperwork to ensure they know your loved one passed.
Taking a proactive approach after your loved one passes can prevent a financial disaster. It’s a difficult thing to think about, or even deal with, during a time of loss, but tying up financial loose ends as soon as possible will put your mind at ease.
Theft of a Baby’s Identity
It may sound odd, but performing a credit check when your child gets their social security number is your best line of defense. From then on, check your child’s credit report yearly, just as you would for yourself.
If you do find something awry in your child’s report, contact the three major credit bureaus immediately and ask for a detailed report, and have them set up fraud alerts. IDTheftCenter.org offers more details and forms to ask for your child’s credit report. Also file a report with the FTC and your local police as soon as possible. Quickly filing these reports can keep the problem contained.
Taking action and watching your family’s credit reports can prevent long-term damage if someone steals their identity. Knowing the ways a thief can target you and how to protect yourself can greatly reduce the risk of a thief taking complete advantage of you.
For even more information on how to protect your identity, check out these other Zing! articles:
Shred It to Protect It: Prevent Identity Theft
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Your Phone: Tips to Protect Against Identity Theft
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Your Wallet: How to Guard Against Identity Theft
Do you keep your social security card or a ton of blanks checks in your wallet? Learn why you might want to keep that stuff in a safer place.
5 Ways to Avoid Identity Theft This Holiday Season
Everyone using their credit and debit cards during the holiday shopping season is a prime time for thieves to steal financial information.
How to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft
Get links to resources that help you monitor your accounts and let you know where to turn if someone does steal your identity.