For people who celebrate the holidays, whether it’s Hanukkah, Christmas or Kwanzaa, holiday shopping has officially begun. Consumers are expected to spend an average of $1,250 each this holiday on gifts, travel, and entertainment, according to PwC’s 2018 Retail & Consumer Products report .
As people make their in-store and online purchases with their debit and credit cards, one thing that might not be at the top of their lists is protecting their financial identities. With companies constantly alerting consumers about data breaches, the latest being Marriott Hotels and Dunkin' Donuts , more consumers' financial identities are at risk of being misused.
In Florida, more than 200,000 people reported having their identities stolen in 2017, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
Currently, no service or company can adequately protect your financial identity. However, some companies offer monitoring and recovery services. Prices range from $5 to $30 a month.
The FTC says credit monitoring and identity monitoring are two basic types of monitoring services that are available to consumers.
Credit monitoring tracks activity on your credit reports at the three major credit bureaus - Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Consumers will be alerted when a company checks your credit history, when a legal judgment is placed against you, or when your credit limit changes.
Credit monitoring services will also alert you via text or email when a new loan or credit card account is opened with your personal information, or when a creditor files a late payment report.
Identity monitoring alerts you when your personal information is being used for things that don’t typically show up on your credit report, like a change of address request, court or arrest records, and social media account information.
Identity monitoring alerts also keep tabs of payday loan applications, check cashing requests, and new orders for cable, utilities and cell phone services.
When you’re shopping around for credit monitoring providers, it’s important to ask what services they offer. The FTC says ideal questions should include the following:
- Which credit bureaus do you monitor?
- How often do you monitor reports? Monthly? Daily? Weekly?
- What access will I have to my credit reports?
- Can I see my reports at all three credit bureaus?
- Is there a limit to how often I can see my reports?
- Will I be charged a separate fee each time I view a report?
- Are other services included, such as access to my credit score?
When it comes to selecting an identity monitoring provider, the FTC suggests asking the following:
- What kinds of information do you check, and how often? For example, does the service check databases that show payday loan applications to see if someone is misusing my information to get a loan?
- What personal information do you need from me and how will you use my information?
- Are other services included with the identity monitoring service? How much?
Low-Cost or Free Identity Protection Services
If you prefer to monitor your credit and personal identity without having to pay, there are several options you can do on your own.
By law, you can request a free credit report from the three credit reporting agencies once a year. The FTC states that AnnualCreditReport.com is the only authorized website for free credit reports.
Review your credit card, bank statements and other financial holdings at least once a month.
Keep an eye on your explanation of benefits statements you receive from your health insurance. If something looks off, contact your insurance provider and medical practitioners immediately.
FTC.gov has more information on how you can protect yourself from identity theft .