Protect Yourself from Identity Theft

Identity theft is a serious crime and you are particularly vulnerable during a divorce.  The Federal Trade Commission reports that more than 8 million Americans are victims each year. Criminals are getting very good at stealing your personal information to open new credit accounts or use the information for other crimes. Divorce is a legal process that usually involves filing documents that are considered “public records.” Unfortunately the divorce process can substantially increase your exposure to identity theft.  The bottom line is you can spend significant money and numerous hours trying to resolve these issues if you are a victim. Avoid this by protecting yourself now. Here is how.

Never assume financial records which may include PINs, passwords and even Social Security numbers have been secured from public access. Before you submit documents to the court talk to your attorney about what protections are available. Some seals may last only a few months, others remain effective for years. A number of courts allow data entered into the record to be abbreviated.

Look at credit card statements each month and make sure the charges are your own. Report anything suspicious immediately to your credit card company. There are limits and deadlines for how much the credit card company will cover and how quickly you must dispute incorrect charges.

Get a credit report once a year. If someone is falsifying or using your name to obtain credit it will show up on your credit report.  A credit report might also reveal if your spouse is taking out loans or applying for credit that you did not know about. Visit http://www.annualcreditreport.com to request your free credit report and contact the company immediately if anything looks suspicious.

Never give out your social security number. Don’t carry it around in your purse or wallet either. Once someone has your social security number they can access a tremendous amount of personal information and easily steal your identity and financial history.

Get a locked mailbox and a shredder. Even in the best neighborhoods, thieves will steal checks, credit card statements and other personal information from your mail when you are not home.  They will also go through the trash to find bank account numbers and personal information.  Lock your mailbox and shred all your statements and any paper that includes your personal financial information.

Do not carry a lot of credit cards. Leave the cards you will not be using at home.  When you do go out, make sure you have only the cards you need. Also, make sure you leave a copy of your account number and bank contact info at home. If your card is lost or stolen you will need this information when you report it to the bank.

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