I have written previously offering suggestions about dealing with identity theft. Now, some months later, it is time to offer a few more ID-recovery suggestions, ones that you may not have seen elsewhere.

Suggestions for Everyone
Chex Systems, Inc.
If you are a victim of identity theft, you’ve already frozen your credit at Experian, Equifax, and Transunion. You may also have dealt with the Federal Trade Commission, the US Postal Inspection Service, and the Social Security Administration. Chances are that you have not contacted Chex Systems, Inc.

Chex Systems is a check verification service and consumer reporting agency. Eighty percent of US commercial banks and credit unions use ChexSystems to screen applicants for checking and savings accounts. Chex Systems’ reports can flag any bank accounts opened in your name, accounts that can be missed by the three major credit agencies. If you are an identity theft victim, or suspect that you are, place a security freeze with Chex Systems as well. Consider this an order, not a suggestion. Here is the link.

Automatic Biller Updater
Most major credit cards include an automatic billing updater service. (“ABU” at Mastercard; “VAU” at Visa.) If you change your card number/details, these services will automatically update your new card details with participating merchants. The credit card issuers describe these billing updaters as a way of avoiding declined transactions when, for instance, your card expiry date changes. For identity theft victims, like me, these updaters also mean that you may still be billed for recurring services linked to an account that you can no longer access. Remember, you can still be auto-billed even if you change your credit card number. Should you be unable to cancel your vendor/account, consider contacting your credit card provider and opting out of its updater service. Then, change your credit card number. It may not protect you from charges for services that you have legally contracted, but it could prevent some unwanted billings.

Virtual Credit Cards
Virtual credit cards are temporary credit card numbers that you can use when shopping online. Most virtual card services allow you to set specific expiry dates and spending limits. They are designed to protect your actual account number from falling into the wrong hands. Many Citibank and Capital One (personal) credit cards offer a free virtual card service. I highly recommend them. If you have a card that does not offer this added feature, you may also wish to use a subscription service, like IronVest (formerly, Albine Blur) or Privacy.com. Both offer masked credit card services for a fee.

Only For the Most Cautious
Tracfone
One last suggestion. I now have a “disposable” Tracfone. This pay-as-you-go device looks like a 1990s-era, flip phone. It’s not for calling, texting, emailing, or app use. I use it exclusively as the phone/text contact number on my online purchases. The number is anonymous. There are other masked/virtual phone options out there, but almost all require the opening of accounts that link back to your credit card. My Tracfone can be loaded with minutes using gift cards that are available most anywhere. Sounds paranoid?  Undeniably. Yet, after having multiple cell phones hacked, including intercepted text messages, I give out my real cell phone number on a need-to-know basis. Walmart.com and other online retailers (that often share, sell, or lose customers’ data) are not on my need-to-know list. Should they be on yours?

 

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