Credit freezes and credit locks are powerful tools you can use to help protect yourself from criminals. But they won’t protect you from everything or everyone. Here are 5 other precautions you should also be taking to help protect against thieves and fraudsters.
1. Keep up with credit report changes.
Wait, doesn’t freezing or locking your credit reports mean you can simply ignore them? Yes and no. Credit report freezes/locks do make your reports off-limits to criminals who might use them to apply for credit in your name. So, with your credit reports frozen or locked, you can rest assured they won’t be used to run up debt in your name. But, that doesn’t mean you can forget about your credit reports.
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Even if your reports were frozen or locked, they would still collect any new information reported to the bureaus producing those reports. Frozen, locked or not, your credit reports may still provide important clues about suspicious, possibly fraudulent account activity.
For example, let’s say you update your credit report and notice a new address listed in the addresses section. You have no idea where this address came from – you’ve never lived there, worked there or otherwise been associated with it. This would be something you’d want to investigate, immediately, because it may be a sign a criminal has convinced one or more of your account holders to change the address on your account to one they are accessing. That criminal could be getting your statements, using your services and conducting any number of other financially damaging activities — all without your necessarily finding out any other way.
2. Stay on top of your financial accounts.
Just because you’ve frozen or locked your credit reports doesn’t mean you’ve frozen or locked your bank accounts, credit cards or other financial accounts. You should be reviewing your financial account statements regularly for suspicious charges. That means bank accounts, credit card accounts, brokerage accounts, even retirement accounts.
Continue to keep a watchful eye for:
- Bills that do not arrive as expected
- Unexpected credit cards or account statements
- Denials of credit you didn’t apply for (this could be a sign someone tried to use your frozen/locked credit report)
- Calls or letters about purchases you did not make
3. Be careful with your personal information, online and off.
Even if you have credit freezes and locks in place, you should continue treating your personal information with care. That includes:
- Regularly changing strong, random, varied and unique online passwords. Consider a secure, online password manager with 2-factor authentication, like Dashlane.
- Using caution when sharing account numbers and personal information online or over the phone
- Being aware of phishing phone calls or emails where criminals ask you to provide your information to them — they can pose as banks, retail businesses or even people you know, like family members, friends or coworkers
4. Keep an eye on your taxes.
Freezing or locking your credit reports won’t protect you from tax fraud. Be alert to possible tax-related identity theft if you are contacted by the IRS or your tax professional/provider about:
- More than one tax return being filed using your Social Security number
- Owing additional tax, refund offsets or having had collection actions taken against you for a year you did not file a tax return
- IRS records indicating you received wages or other income from an employer for whom you did not work
5. Watch your medical bills and records.
Believe it or not, medical fraudsters are out there, and unfortunately, credit freezes or locks may be of limited use. To help protect against medical fraud, keep an eye out for:
- Signs of suspicious activity on your medical bills and explanations of benefits
- Notifications from your health plan that you’ve reached your benefit limit
- A denial of insurance based on your medical records showing a condition you don’t have
The above list of precautions certainly isn’t a complete one, but it does cover major areas of potential vulnerability. Unfortunately, the fight against fraud isn’t as simple as a credit freeze or lock. Fortunately, though, you can reduce your risks with just a little bit of additional knowledge, awareness and diligence.