01/21/2014

by Sara Gilbert, GreenPath Manager, Colorado/Wyoming

The theft of customers’ credit card numbers and other personal information from Target during the Christmas holiday has more of us asking what we should do to better protect our financial information from identity thieves.

If you were a victim of the Target breach, Target is offering to help monitor your accounts at no charge during the next year. Go to www.target.com to learn more about this service. Take steps now to be vigilant if you think you might have been affected.

Here are some things to do now to try to avoid major problems with identity theft:

• Carefully watch all credit card statements and review every charge to make sure you made them. Sometimes, if an identity thief has your credit card information, they will use it to charge small amounts first to see if the account is still active. If they are successful with the small amounts, they will then use the account to charge more.

So watch for any unknown charges, even the smaller ones. You might need to save receipts to match your activity to the credit card statement. Your credit card company might also be able to assist you, so you should report unknown activity to them immediately. Most credit granters are quick to announce that you aren’t responsible for fraudulent charges if you report them.

Get your credit report for free from www.annualcreditreport.com. You are entitled to a free report once a year from credit bureaus Experian, Equifax and Transunion. Use these reports to review accounts and make sure the information is accurate. If you don’t recognize some activity, dispute it with the credit bureau immediately. Each bureau offers dispute information on its website.

• If you notice fraudulent activity occurring with your credit accounts, you should probably also report it to police. This will help you explain the problem moving forward. Keep good records so you never become responsible for covering fraudulent charges. Save copies of communication regarding identity theft.

Be careful about email or telephone solicitations that look or sound like they’re coming from a known creditor asking for personal information. In some identity theft schemes, consumers are contacted about an account and asked for identifying information such as Social Security numbers or birthdays. Never give this information out unless you know who is asking and why. Watch for strangely worded emails or misspellings as a potential clue to identity thieves.

You can also contact (877) IDTHEFT, the Federal Trade Commission identity theft hotline, to report problems. GreenPath also has a short training class on identity theft available at http://noconow.co/idtheft.