As fresh graduates descend from the ivory tower (bearing their unstained diplomas), many will eventually encounter "real world" interactions for the very first time, and they run the risk of being eaten alive out there.
Information violations and the identity-theft crimes that arise from them have become realities in life, next only to death and taxes. But there are a few things you can undertake to improve your protection against them, identify the problems and reduce the effects in case the inevitable happens. However, if you believe a compromise to your identity or credit will never cause you to incur a good amount of money, you will be surprised to realize the emotional turmoil and endless moments of annoyance spent regretting things which are non-refundable.
New grads must bear this in mind: Your personal identity and credit are significantly precious assets. And whereas it might be quite early in the game to seriously consider your investment portfolio, you now have a built-in two investment-grade portfolios that you ought to manage well: your identity portfolio and your credit portfolio.
Take a look at a few general rules in the game that will aid you to protect your identity that, if you observe them, could make it easier for you to succeed.
1. Credit Cards
If you are newbie to the world of credit cards, you tend to make some beginner's errors that may lead to identity risk.
First, be wary as to where you divulge your credit card data. Consider yourself as your worst enemy when it concerns credit card scams if you fail to observe proper security steps when sharing your credit card information over the websites, to companies and even to friends. And while scammers have a way of stealing your account numbers, taking extra care if you live with roommates will protect you in a big way.
Make sure to check your account statements as often as you can, even daily, for unauthorized withdrawals or purchases. If anyone steals your debit or credit card number and goes out to spend like a king, and you fail to discover it early enough to prevent more damage, you could find yourself back to zero.
Keep track of your credit report and note how your credit standing moves. This will allow you ascertain that all the accounts listed there belong to you. Usually, the first sign that says you have fallen victim to a new account fraud arises from these reports. Being aware lets you face and deal with the issue way before a collection firm asks for money you did not spent. Check your credit reports without being charged yearly from all three credit reporting agencies through this site: AnnualCreditReport.com. Likewise, you can check two of your credit scores for free with a Credit.com account - in case you observe an unexpected reduction in your credit scores, check your reports for any issues, including fraudulent accounts.
What about utilities? You phone a customer service agent who gets your name, address and phone number, and when your bill comes on the last day of the month, you pay accordingly. Sounds so simple, even a child could do it — which is exactly the problem. Identity thieves are so good at stealing electricity in your name, and since it is that easy for anyone to set up an account using your name, you may not be aware of it until you receive a notice from a collection agency for unpaid utilities bills and your credit status falls.
Here is what you need to do: Take extra time assessing your bills and immediately check on any doubtful items, pay your bills on time always, (think of enrolling in a direct debit plan), safeguard your personally identifiable data (which means protecting your Social Security number from everyone except the select few who have to know it), and keep in mind that monitoring your scores and your reports often can warn you of any issue soon enough. One could never be too paranoid when it comes to monitoring nowadays.
3. Applying for Jobs
Many fresh graduates are not aware that a significant number of firms and institutions will check credit reports (not credit scores) prior to offering anyone a job. They are required to obtain a permission from you (often in writing) before looking at your reports and most of them will ask for your Social Security number, a primary asset in your identity portfolio, for them to do so.
Obviously, you have to be sure the employer is authorized, and if you feel uneasy about divulging your Social Security number to a potential employer, conduct a little research before you give it. Many job scammers will take your SSN upfront, before they even interview you.
4. Filing Your Taxes
For a few new graduates, taxes have never entered their vocabulary or their limited world. It may be that their parents filed taxes for them, or they have never worked at a job to make it necessary.
If you are new at dealing with taxes, be aware of this: Not every person who offers to assist you will be trustworthy. Thieves abound everywhere, so take a careful look before getting an accountant or a tax-preparation service provider. Tax-connection identitytheft is one more reason why you must check who has access to your personally identifiable data. If a scammer files a tax return in your name before you do, you will spend six months or more waiting for the IRS to rectify the error and give you a refund.
Last Word on Identity Protection
In the realm of personal finance, many kinds of fraudulent people will try to take advantage of you, snatch your personally identifiable data and possibly decimate your credit. They revel in feasting over fresh-graduate meat. Not surprising as most new graduates still have a clean credit record and may not know the possible harm that identity thieves waiting at a dark corner can do. But if you carefully manage and attentively check your identity portfolio, it will be a real asset and not a liability.