Being involved with the financial industry since before Gore ‘invented the internet’, I’m from a time where ID theft was not commonplace. We did not have overseas phone calls demanding fake IRS payments, or viruses locking computers for ransom, or emails pretending to be from PayPal, or even PayPal itself.
At one time, it was not a crisis to loose your social security card and drivers license. A good samaritan would surely return it. Times were simpler.
It has been a few years since I researched the available identity theft options. Until my nearly 90-year old grandmother disclosed what she had done: lost her social security card and drivers license. “What if someone steals my identity,” she worries.
Emergency! What to do?
An internet search reveals a myriad of sites and services claiming to be identity watchdogs, credit protectors, and ID locks. A close look at many services -most over $100/year- reveal few benefits worth the high cost.
Top services implement these benefits:
- Real time monitoring of credit reports with all 3 credit bureaus;
- Immediate notification of suspicious activity on your credit or online;
- Administrative assistance by contacting creditors about any ID theft incident;
- 1 to 5 million dollar insurance/warranty/guarantee;
No service I could find provides tax fraud ID theft or medical record theft protection.
But it seems our friends at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have some very low cost tools to help us.
First, it’s important to check your personal credit reports on a regular basis. Regulations now require each of the 3 credit bureaus provide 1 annual credit report at no charge. Do not fall victim to 3rd party services, or even ‘add-ons’ peddled by the credit bureau’s themselves. You just want your free credit report – nothing more. From the FTC.GOV website:
“To order, visit annualcreditreport.com, call 1-877-322-8228. Or complete the Annual Credit Report Request Form and mail it to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. Do not contact the three nationwide credit reporting companies individually. They are providing free annual credit reports only through annualcreditreport.com, 1-877-322-8228 or mailing to Annual Credit Report Request Service.”
Next, place a credit freeze on each of the 3 credit reporting bureaus. A credit freeze (not to be confused with fraud alert – something different) will prohibit any new credit inquiries for your reports until you unfreeze your account. You can unfreeze your account anytime with 1 to 3 days notice. Contact each of the 3 credit bureaus and request a credit freeze. One time cost varies by state from free to $10 per bureau, but it’s much less than solutions from commercial counterparts. Search online for link, or call:
Experian — 1‑888‑397‑3742
TransUnion — 1-888-909-8872
Finally, request replacement identification cards by visiting your local Social Security office and drivers license bureau. And stop carrying your social security card in your wallet! Just like your credit – you typically won’t need a spur of the moment credit line, you’ll know in advance – you also will not need your social security card unless you are applying for a job or opening a financial account.
As for the paid services, it seems they are inferior to a low cost credit freeze. If your credit is locked, there is no need to monitor, notify, contact anyone about your credit – it’s locked. And the millions in coverages they claim typically only apply to legal fees. This happens rarely, if ever, and only in the most advanced identity theft cases, you can bet there are more exclusions than benefits. Further, premium, commercial or paid ID theft programs are often included with or offered by many credit cards, personal insurance policies, and club memberships.
In the end, my grandmother found her cards. They were not lost.