April is Financial Literacy Month, and it’s a great time to take stock of your monetary health and wellbeing.
Are you paying too much interest on your credit cards? Are you working to make a budget and stick to it? Do you have financial goals you’d like to reach, but need a little help understanding how to get there? There are a lot of programs and online resources that can help you get started.
No matter how your financial health is doing these days, it can take just one data breach or identity theft event to derail even the most carefully planned roadmap. It might be an easily-addressed matter of a few unauthorized charges on your credit card or a much more serious case, like tax return fraud or medical identity theft, that leaves you with horrifying bills hanging over your head. No matter how it happens, your financial security is closely tied to your personally identifiable information.
One consumer who spoke to the Identity Theft Resource Center, was excited about returning to full-time employment after taking a few years off to stay home with her small children. Money had been tight during that time, and she was eager to go back to work and practically double her family’s household income. That almost came to a halt when the employer called her during the last stages of the hiring process to inform her that she had failed her background check due to a warrant for her arrest. Even worse than this warrant was the crime: failure to appear in court after being arrested for passing bad checks.
It was a case of stolen identity—the suspect had provided the victim’s name and Social Security number at the time of arrest, then never appeared in court after posting bail—and the matter was resolved within a few weeks. Thankfully, the woman did get the job despite the initial suspicion hanging over her head.
This is just one example of how identity theft and fraud can throw off your financial health, so understanding how this type of crime can impact your funds is important. Even more important is understanding how to reduce your risk of becoming a victim, and then knowing how and when to take immediate action if you think something isn’t right.
1. Your financial literacy will always involve your credit report and your credit score, but monitoring those two pieces of information on a regular basis will also help you spot unusual activity. Any strange items on your credit report or a sudden change in your credit score can indicate that someone is using your identity.
2. Monitoring your bank account statements and credit card statements is another crucial aspect of financial literacy, while also being vital to keeping tabs on your identity. Don’t assume that any money deducted or added to your account is a small matter.
3. Medical debt is a significant problem for US consumers, but so is medical identity theft. If you receive bills or health insurance statements for care that you didn’t seek, that could be an honest billing mistake at best, and identity theft at worst.