More and more people today are falling victim to identity theft. This occurs when someone uses your name and social security number to either access your existing credit accounts, or to open up new accounts in your name.
While many credit card companies have some safeguards in place, they are not foolproof and you could still be held liable for at least a portion of any purchases made under your name. You could lose hundreds or thousands of dollars!
So it’s understandable and even smart that mystery shoppers are timid about including their social security numbers on online applications with new shop providers.
There are things you can do to protect yourself and still sign up with new shops.
Check Your Credit Report Often. You can pull a free credit report once a year from the three credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. You can obtain these reports online at their websites. Each of your creditors may report to one, two, or all three bureaus. So be sure to check all three.
If you find any errors on the reports, be sure to notify both the credit bureaus as well as your creditors immediately to get them corrected.
You can also request that the credit bureaus put a notice on your credit report that directs creditors to contact you by phone before opening any new accounts. This way, if a credit application is made under your name and social security number, the credit company must verbally call the phone number you instruct on your credit report before approving that credit application.
Consider Setting Up A Business Entity. Rather than run your mystery shopping business through your personal name and social security number, you can set up a business entity such as an LLC or corporation. To do this, you typically need to file a request with your state’s Secretary of State department, and usually there is a fee for doing so.
You’ll be issued a tax ID number that you can use rather than your social security number. Setting up a business entity isn’t foolproof prevention for identity theft, but it makes it one step harder for crooks to get your personal information.
There are legal and accounting ramifications for setting up a business entity, so you will need to research this option carefully and probably should discuss this with an attorney and accountant first as well. You will need to file a separate tax return for your entity each year.
Identity Theft Insurance. Many major insurance companies are now offering identity theft insurance for a monthly fee. In the event you fall victim to identity theft, this insurance cover the costs you will incur because of that. In addition to any charges that were made under your name, the insurance typically covers legal charges and any other fees and costs you may incur because of identity theft.
But watch out! Some of these policies range from just a few dollars a month up to several hundred, with various deductibles and coverages. You really need to analyze your potential risk and see what the peace of mind of insurance is worth to you.
Identity Theft Protection. There are some great protection services available also. Lifelock, Identity Guard, and TrustedID are a few of the most popular. These companies offer a turn-key protection and insurance plan in one.
They not only take steps up front to protect your identity from being stolen, such as contacting the three credit bureaus on your behalf to put the requirement that all new applications must be verified with you by phone first, but they also go further and handle any issues that do arise.
These companies work on your behalf in a legal capacity if you fall victim to identity theft, and also provide identity theft insurance. A side benefit is that they cut down that pesky junk mail by getting your name off the pre-approved credit offer lists. Fees for these companies are reasonable, ranging from $5-15/month.
Know Who You’re Working With. Be sure that any new providers you sign up with are legitimate companies. Don’t just trust what they have written on their website. Check with the Mystery Shopper Providers Association and ensure they are valid companies. You can also check with mystery shopper forums and see what other shoppers have said about various companies.
If identity theft is a major concern for you, research and analyze the options available to you to prevent identity theft and protect yourself in the event you do fall victim to it. Then rest easy with your decision, knowing you’ve taken steps to ensure your peace of mind.