A few days ago I realized I lost a USB flash drive that I usually keep in my bag. Normally I wouldn’t care, as flash drives are cheap and I’d have no problem picking up another one in store.
This particular USB drive had some sensitive personal financial information on it – my tax return, monthly budget and benefits information. The most concerning piece is the tax return – which contains all my income information.
I’ve done some research on the topic and how to prevent identity theft. I’ve learnt that a tax return is one of the worst things to lose – it has your name, address and obviously social insurance number.
I’m not worried about someone paying taxes for me (feel free!) – I’m concerned about what can be done with my social insurance number.
Here are a few quick tips I’ve learnt on what to do if you lose your personal financial information.
Contacting the Authorities
A good place to start is to contact both Equifax and Transunion – the two main companies used by creditors to display your credit score and past credit information.
Most experts also recommend filing a police report as well. The purpose of the report is to demonstrate that you have taken steps to notify the proper authorities.
Consumers are responsible for ensuring their credit information is kept secure, and in the event your identity is stolen and you need to dispute fraudulent charges, you’ll want to have all paperwork showing you have taken the necessary steps.
Credit Monitoring Services
Both Equifax and Transunion offer an identity theft prevention plan, and for about $15 per month they will notify you immediately if a creditor has pulled a copy of your credit report. This is important because if anyone will use your social insurance number in a fraudulent way, it will likely involve a new credit card/loan/etc.
With this plan you’re essentially paying for peace of mind – knowing that if someone does try to obtain credit fraudulently in your name, you’ll be notified right away.
I have signed up for the monthly service offered by Equifax for $14.95 per month.
Identity Theft Insurance
Equifax and Transunion also offer identity theft insurance, which is included as part of the monthly credit monitoring costs.
The insurance covers the postage costs, long distance phone calls, attorney fees (with many restrictions) and several other costs related to restoring your credit rating.
Here are a few other quick tips:
- It’s important to monitor your mail. A thief could easily redirect mail that you would normally be receiving to a different address. Their goal would be to learn as much as possible about you and obtain even more information through credit card statements, utility bills, etc.
- Check your credit reports. This one is obvious but it’s a great idea to check your credit report to make sure there haven’t been any new enquiries that someone else may have done.
- Consider putting an alert on your credit file. For $5 both Transunion and Equifax both offer an alert service that will place your social insurance number as ‘flagged’. This means that anyone looking to obtain credit using your social insurance number would need to show photo ID prior to the credit being obtained. I have done this with both credit reporting companies and the alert is valid for 6 years.
Conclusion: losing a piece of personal information can be stressful, especially something like a tax return. It’s important to be proactive about your identification to ensure thieves do not steal your identity.