Ask Kim


How to Avoid ID Theft

Kimberly Lankford

Take these steps if your wallet has been stolen.



My wallet was stolen from my car when I was on an out-of-town trip. I have already canceled my credit cards and debit card, but I’m worried that I might become a victim of identity theft. Is there anything else that I can do to protect myself?

Canceling your credit and debit cards was a smart first move, but don’t stop there. Report the stolen wallet to the police where the theft occurred. If your driver’s license was stolen, contact the department of motor vehicles, not only to find out how to replace it but also to alert the authorities that someone might attempt to use your old ID, says Joe Reynolds, product manager for identity-fraud protection services at Travelers Insurance.

Then contact one of the credit bureaus (Experian.com, Equifax.com or TransUnion.com) to file a fraud alert, which will require lenders to attempt to verify your identity before issuing any new credit in your name (the credit bureau will alert the other two). Fraud alerts usually last for 90 days. If you end up becoming a victim of ID theft, you can get extended fraud-alert protection, which can last up to seven years, plus two free credit reports from each of the bureaus within 12 months (in addition to the annual free credit reports everyone can get at AnnualCreditReport.com.

Identity thieves can take a long time to pounce, so review your credit reports periodically for suspicious activity. To be even safer, you may want to initiate a credit freeze on your account, which prohibits new lenders from seeing your credit report unless you give them permission. But credit feezes can be expensive (typically, you pay $10 at each of the three bureaus to initiate the freeze and another $10 apiece to have it lifted). Freezes can also be a nuisance: You have to lift a credit freeze (at $10 a pop) whenever you apply for a new credit card, car loan, insurance or anything else that requires a credit report.

Finally, check with your insurance company, bank or credit union to see if you have access to an identity-theft protection program or fraud-resolution services. For more information about protecting yourself from ID theft, see the Federal Trade Commission’s identity-theft site.

Got a question? Ask Kim at askkim@kiplinger.com.



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