By Kim Komando
Gannett News Service
You can diligently guard your personal information, shred your mail, limit the use of your Social Security number, and never fall for online scams. In the end, it may not matter. Your identity still could be easily stolen.
How? According to the Federal Trade Commission and other authorities, thieves often find Social Security numbers in the trash. Many organizations use those numbers for identification, and fail to shred documents before disposing of them.
In addition, Social Security numbers and other confidential data is stolen and sold by insiders.
There isn't much you can do to stop them. But if you keep an eye on your credit reports, you can limit the damage. Credit reporting services watch for early warning signs of identity theft. They let you know if a merchant has checked your address or if someone has submitted a change of address for you.
Credit-reporting companies Experian, Equifax and TransUnion offer these services:
TransUnion. Weekly e-mails are sent disclosing possible fraud situations. These include new inquiries about your credit, new accounts opened in your name and any late payments. TransUnion charges $10.95 quarterly, or $43.80 per year.
You also get a quarterly look at your credit report. If the worst happens, you get immediate access to an identity theft specialist. And TransUnion throws in $2,500 in insurance, with a $250 deductible. The policy covers lost wages, legal fees and other odds and ends.
Experian. This company offers Credit Manager for $89.95 annually. For that sum, you are promised an e-mail notification within 24 hours after any event that may indicate fraud. Those events include new inquiries, new accounts, negative information, changes in address and public-record items.
Equifax. Called Credit Watch Gold, subscribers will get an e-mail within 24 hours after suspicious activity is noted.
Included is a $20,000 insurance policy with no deductible. Subscribers get access to an identity fraud specialist. And they can see their credit report at any time.
Equifax's Gold service is the most expensive of the three, at $99.95 per year. The company also offers family coverage at even higher prices. It tops out at $715 per year, for 11 people.
The company also has a Silver service for $59.40 per year. Suspicious activity is reported within seven days with Silver service. Insurance is cut to $2,500, and only one credit report is free.
So, to which company should you subscribe? Actually, to be safe, you would need to subscribe to all three. A credit inquiry could go to just one.
You can learn more about what to do if you become an identity-theft victim at the Federal Trade Commission's site.