From scheduling tours to browsing neighborhoods and shopping lenders, you’re likely so caught up in the excitement of buying your first home that identity theft is one of the last things on your mind. While many people tend to live with the mindset that identity theft will never happen to them, more and more people fall victim to the crime every year. As you prepare to take out a mortgage and purchase your first home, use these tips to help you avoid falling victim to identity thieves and scams.
1. Check Your Credit Report – 35% of your credit score is your payment history, so keep a close watch on your’s to make sure the information is correct. Contrary to urban myth, pulling and reviewing your own credit report does not hurt your credit score, and as you prepare to purchase a home, you should be checking up on your report each and every month. Scour through the entries with a fine-tooth comb to make sure each and every account listed on the report was in fact opened by you. If you find any accounts that were opened without your knowledge, dispute them immediately through the reporting agency and file a police report.
2. Shred Your Mail – During the home buying process, you might receive countless letters from lenders advertising guaranteed financing. Some of these letters may even include vouchers and cards that a thief could attempt to cash in for themselves using your information. Buy an electronic shredder to shred any offers you don’t take up.
3. Protect Your Social Security Number – When shopping lenders by phone or in person, don’t give out your social security number unless the person you’re speaking with has an absolutely imperative reason to know it. You would be shocked to learn just how much an identity thief can do with something as simple as a string of numbers, but from opening credit cards to purchasing houses, a social security number can take an identity thief a long way on your dollar.
4. Check the Background on Lenders – Don’t take a lender’s word for it when they say they are licensed. Many unlicensed lenders have set up scam shops and have led borrowers into extreme amounts of debt. Do your research and make sure a lender is licensed in your state to ensure it is a legitimate business and not a front for an identity theft ring.
5. Place a Fraud Alert on Your Credit Report – Attaching a fraud alert to your credit report will force lenders to ask for a backup form of identification anytime you – or anyone else – attempts to obtain a line of credit in your name. This will catch potential thieves red handed while they’re in the act of trying to steal your identity, and will give you piece of mind throughout your home buying experience and beyond.
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