Changing your name? What you should know to protect against identity theft

Published 7:00 pm Sunday, March 18, 2012

(ARA) – After the “I do’s” are said, will you change your last name? Brides consider a host of factors when answering that question – everything from how a name change might affect a woman’s sense of identity to how having the same last name can make a family feel more bonded.

Our modern world has added a new element for brides to consider – the risk of identity theft.

While there’s no one right or wrong answer to the question of whether you should change your name, it’s important to be aware of how the name change process can increase your risk of identity theft. Hopefully, as a single woman, you have already taken steps to protect against identity theft. These precautions will serve you well as you go through the name-changing process, which is a haven of opportunity for identity thieves. You’ll be changing important documents, like your Social Security card and driver’s license, and sharing personal, identifying information with a host of organizations – from credit card issuers to your bank.

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If you choose to take your spouse’s name, or to hyphenate your maiden last name with your new married last name, you’ll need to make changes anywhere your maiden name appears. Many of those documents and accounts will be of interest to identity thieves, including:

* Social Security card

* Driver’s license

* Passport

* Bank account(s)

* Credit card(s)

* Health insurance cards

* Investment accounts

* Gym club memberships

* Vehicle registration and auto insurance

And, for those who try to balance the desire to maintain their individual identity with showing solidarity for their mate by hyphenating, keep in mind that doing so puts your maiden name out there for everyone to see down the road when your own children need to use it as a security question answer.

If you decide to change your name, you can take steps to help prevent identity theft, including:

* Consider using an identity theft detection, protection and resolution product like ProtectMyID. The service monitors your credit report on a daily basis to help you catch signs of identity theft quickly.

* Do as much of the legwork in person as possible. Take your marriage certificate to your local Social Security office and complete the change form there. Don’t fax or email it, even if a helpful agent agrees to accept it in this form. And never leave your marriage certificate with the agent.

* Likewise, head into your local bank branch and fill out the necessary change paperwork in person.

* Call credit card issuers regarding the name change after you’ve received your updated Social Security card and driver’s license. Some may be willing to conduct the change over the phone. Others will ask to see a copy of your marriage certificate. Be sure to find out if they can take a photocopy or if they require an original duplicate.

* Consider asking the credit bureaus to place a fraud alert on your account for several months after you change your name. The alert will help you detect any attempts to fraudulently use your personal information.

Finally, if you’re thinking of keeping your maiden name to avoid the hassles of changing it, and as a way to deter identity theft, consider this: Keeping your maiden name may not necessarily be a cure-all for preventing identity theft. If you don’t use your “married name,” an enterprising identity thief just might. Since the name the fraud would occur under is different from the one you use, you might not become aware of the theft right away.

Ultimately, when it comes to the question of whether to change your name, there’s no one right or wrong answer that suits everyone. However, the need to take steps to protect your identity is universal – regardless of what name you decide to use.