Being a newlywed often means a new name, merged accounts, and insurance changes. Those adjustments, among others, may put couples at an increased risk of identity theft.
Equifax spoke to Robert Siciliano, CEO of IDtheftsecurity.com, about the risks that newly-married couples may face.
“Social security numbers are being provided quite a bit, from various licenses that you may need to obtain, to applications you’re filling out for apartments, for loans, potential mortgages, maybe even vehicles,” Siciliano said.
“There’s a lot of commerce going on that takes place as you’re establishing yourself as a couple,” he said, and it’s important to be aware of how your personal information will be used.
Here are some of his recommendations to help better protect your and your spouse’s sensitive information:
Think about setting up a security freeze. You can do this with each of the nationwide consumer reporting agencies. In some states, a fee may be required. If paperwork with sensitive information is lost or mishandled, a security freeze may help in thwarting an attempt to open new accounts in your name, he said.
By placing a security freeze on your credit files with the three nationwide consumer reporting agencies, you will limit access to your credit reports. New potential creditors will not have access to a credit file that has a security freeze placed on it. For more information on security freezes, click here. Siciliano acknowledged that freezing and unfreezing your credit may be cumbersome, but said a security freeze is like locking your doors at home.
He also recommends subscribing to a credit monitoring and identity theft protection product as another way to help better protect your personal information. Most products offer ID restoration features to help in the case you are a victim of ID theft, he said.
Manage passwords. Make sure your devices and electronics are password-protected, and that they have updated operating systems and antivirus protection where applicable, Siciliano said.
“Password management is a big one. With couples, they may share the same password, and they may use the same password for various accounts. That puts both of you at a significant disadvantage,” he said. “It’s important to establish proper password management from the very beginning.”
He suggested using a password manager – software that manages all your passwords, and can help create them as well. “The goal is to have a different password for every account.”
Most accounts are set up with a username and password, and the username is often an e-mail address, he said. If you use the same password for multiple accounts, “all the criminal needs to do going forward is plug in your email and match it up with the password they found with the compromised account. Eventually, they’re going to strike gold.”
Monitor your existing accounts. Many banking and credit card accounts offer notifications of new activity, Siciliano said. While many people just read their monthly statements, getting an alert or notification via email or text of any new charge allows you to react quickly if you see unauthorized activity on your bank account or credit card. “If there is a problem, you can immediately respond to the card company or the bank.”
He said he has alerts set up on the credit cards he shares with his wife. “I get all the text messages.” Couples can decide which person should get the notifications, he said. Other suggestions include checking your credit report regularly, starting about a month after you tie the knot.
Keep an eye on your mailbox. New ATM cards, health insurance cards, credit cards, driver’s licenses and Social Security cards will be mailed to you. You might want to invest in a locking mailbox or consider having your mail held at the post office while you travel.
A post office box is an even better idea, Siciliano said. Young couples may move frequently; if you’re staying in the same general area, “sometimes a P.O. box is one of the best things you can do if you’re going to be receiving a lot of paper.”
Go paperless. Opt to receive electronic statements whenever you can – from credit cards to utility bills, Siciliano said.
Decide how you’re going to store and dispose of sensitive documents. Locking filing cabinets and fireproof safes are both good options to store things like vehicle titles, extra credit cards you aren’t using, or Social Security cards, Siciliano said.
Non-essential documents with sensitive information, including things like old checks, should be cross shredded.
“These are all layers of protection,” Siciliano said. “The question is, how many layers do you have? Most people have little to none. They all matter. They all work hand in hand.”
The information contained in this blog post is designed to generally educate and inform visitors to the Equifax Finance Blog. The blog posts do not give, and should not be assumed to provide, personalized tax, investment, real estate, legal, retirement, credit, personal financial, or other professional advice. Before making any financial decision, you should always consult with the appropriate professionals who can explain your options, rights, and legal responsibilities, and advise you on any tax, legal, credit, or business implications that may result from those decisions. The views and opinions expressed by the authors of blog posts are their own views and may not be the views or opinions of Equifax, Inc. and/or its affiliates.