Guard your Social Security Number

If your debit card number is stolen, the worst thing that can happen is that the thief can run up charges that you will ultimately have to place numerous phone calls to have refunded. However, if a thief gets his hands on your Social Security number, he can wreak havoc on your life – for years. That’s because a Social Security number enables thieves to apply for credit cards, mortgages and other lines of credit in your name. And because you won’t notice money flowing out of your bank account, these thefts often take longer to uncover. Also problematic is the fact that once a thief has your Social Security number, he can also file fraudulent tax returns in your name.

If you believe someone is fraudulently using your Social Security number, you should first file a police report and contact the Federal Trade Commission. The Federal Trade Commission advises you to be wary of companies that offer to help you because their fees can be excessive.

Next, contact Experian, Trans­Union, or Equifax to register for a free 90-day fraud alert. A fraud alert tells creditors to double-check whenever someone applies for credit in your name. The alert lasts seven years.

You also should monitor your credit reports. Remember, under the law, you’re entitled to a free credit report from each of the three credit bureaus every year. You can also sign up for credit monitoring; the service is available for free from Credit Karma and Credit Sesame. Finally, you can put a security freeze on your credit report which prohibits anyone from pulling your credit report. This means no one can apply for credit in your name, not even you. However, this can be costly. Prices vary state to state, but it can cost up to $30 to freeze your credit report and $12 if you want to lift the freeze so you can apply for credit.

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