24 Tips to Avoid Identity Theft
Steps to Keeping Your Identity Safe
With millions of identities stolen each year, it's no wonder that people have to take a pro-active approach to protecting their identity. By developing some key habits, individuals can minimize the risk of having their identity stolen and can avoid the financial and mental strain of having to repair their credit score and eliminate fraudulent debt.
Protecting Your Identity Online
Because the Internet Still Isn't 100% Secure
As much as technology has advanced throughout the years, the internet is still a haven for scammers and hackers to steal personal data. Even more, the better technology gets, the more creative the scams become. The internet is a great and convenient place to do a number of things; such as pay bills, purchase items, and apply for credit. However, it's still imperative to protect your information to the best of your ability when online.
- Memorize usernames and passwords as opposed to writing them down. If you have to write them down, keep them in a safe location where no one can access them.
- When creating passwords, choose something that is difficult to guess. It's a good rule of thumb to create secure passwords using a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters. If possible, you should also avoid using the same password for multiple websites.
- Don't provide personal or confidential information in an email, text, chat, or instant message. Furthermore, you shouldn't respond to unfamiliar messages from these sources or click on any provided attachments.
- Ensure you have up-to-date antivirus software installed and run scans regularly. Some types of malware utilize keyloggers to record login information or data entered in an online form, which can be used to access your accounts or obtain confidential information.
- Limit access to your computer. Because a home computer is typically one's primary storage unit, people who have access can easily obtain a great deal of information about you. To better protect your data, keep your computer password protected. If someone needs to use your computer, have a generic account handy they can use instead of your own. When at the office, keep your computer locked when away from your desk.
- Use your personal computer when paying bills or reviewing account data online. Public computers offer much less security.
- If you are using wireless internet at home, make sure it is secured and password protected
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Snail Mail and Garbage
Because People Do Crazy Things to Get Your Personal Information
Of all the research and stories I have heard about identity theft, tactics with postal mail and trash are among the most sneaky and absurd that I've heard of. It's mildly concerning how cautious we have to be with our own mail nowadays and I'm strangely amused at the fact that perpetrators will dig through trash. Apparently, people dumpster dive for more than food and treasure! Luckily, there are steps available to help prevent even these forms of identity theft.
- One tactic used by identity thieves is to respond to marketing materials (such as pre-approved credit card offers) on your behalf. You can minimize the chance of this happening by limiting the number of unsolicited mailings you receive. You can do this contacting each of the three major credit bureaus and requesting to opt-out of their promotional contracts. Additionally, you can register with the Direct Marketing Association's (DMA) Mail Preference Service and asked to be placed on their "delete" file.
- For those unsolicited mailings you can't avoid, don't just throw them away. If a pre-approved credit card offer isn't snatched before you check your mail, it could be after you've tossed it. Amazingly enough, people will rummage through your garbage to get their hands on these offers and submit them in your name. Always shred those offers before throwing them away.
- The same principle applies for any document you wish to get rid of that contains confidential information. Never simply throw bills, statements, or official documents in the garbage. You should always shred them (or burn them) first.
- Mail bill payments or documents containing confidential information from the post office. This is a much more secure method than sending mail from your home.
- Unfortunately, it is possible for some random person to dig through your home mailbox. Ensure your mailbox is properly secured/locked or opt instead for a post office box.
- Consider signing up for "paperless billing" with your bank or credit card companies. This way, you can review your account information online (ensuring the website and your computer have security measures in place) and won't have to worry about your confidential data being stolen or misplaced in the mail.
Dispose of Mail the Safe Way
When Out and About
People are Watching You
Not to make you paranoid or anything, but aside from the standard muggings we always hear about, people will try to sneak a peak at what you're doing, holding, and writing down. Wherever you are, these tips will help you keep your information safe.
- When writing down account information or entering PINs, be cautious of those around you. Believe it or not, some people will try to peak over your shoulder to see what you are writing down or what information you're entering at the ATM.
- Keep a close eye on your purse or wallet. As obvious as this should be, people still sometimes have a tendency to take their eyes off their belongings. Bottom line, keep your purse or wallet on you at all times.
- Only carry what you need on you. In the event that you are robbed, you can lessen the chance of identity theft by refraining from carrying all bank cards and identifying information at once. When taking a trip somewhere, if you aren't going to make any purchases, leave the credit cards at home and just carry a little cash in case of an emergency. Don't carry your social security card with you unless absolutely necessary.
I Was Robbed!
What Steps Did You Take to Protect Your Data After a Robbery?
Random Steps that are Just as Imperative
Because You Never Can be too Careful
Aside from the options listed so far, there are a number of additional steps that people can take to protect their identity. Some are crucial and should be done without hesitation, while others may not necessarily be that important, but can be the difference between keeping your identity safe or becoming a victim. Hey, it's always better to be safe than sorry, right?
- Protect your social security number at all costs. This small piece of information is the #1 thing individuals seeking to steal your identity will try to obtain.
- Compile a list of account numbers and contact information. This may sound contradictory, but it’s a great way to save some time in the event you are robbed. If your purse or wallet is stolen, you need to act fast. By having this type of list handy, you can quickly and easily contact the appropriate parties to report the theft. Of course, only do this if you can store the list in a safe place; such as a lockbox.
- Review your credit report regularly for suspicious activity. If someone is attempting to open a new line of credit in your name, it will show up on your credit report. Because of this, it is important to review your report from all three major credit bureaus on a frequent basis. Everyone is entitled to a free copy of their credit report annually, so make a habit of taking advantage of this. If possible, try to review it up to three times a year so you can report any suspicious activity more quickly.
- Review your bank and credit card statements each month and contact the issuing company immediately if you notice any unusual charges. If someone is using your bank account or credit card to make purchases, you can catch it rather quickly be thoroughly reviewing your statements.
- Consider signing up for an identity protection or monitoring program. Companies like True Credit and LifeLock provide a variety of services to consumers so that they can monitor their credit reports and receive notification if a chance is made.
Scams to Watch Out For
Those Sneaky Devils Will Try Anything
Be on the lookout for:
- Phishing Emails - In a nutshell, phishing emails are messages from purportedly legitimate companies, asking you to reply or click on a supplied link in order to provide account information. Individuals can avoid falling victim to these types of scams by simply refusing to respond to the email and deleting it immediately. A majority, if not all, of businesses have security policies in place that prohibit the transfer of personal information via email. So, no matter how convincing the email looks or sounds, DO NOT respond to it. If you're unsure, contact the company directly (don't use any contact information provided in the email).
- Telephone Scams - Have you ever gotten a call from some random company claiming you've won a prize? How about from a collection agency claiming you owe money on a debt you don't recognize? Or maybe from your bank claiming that there was a system malfunction and they need to re-collect your account data? Ultimately, you receive a call from some unfamiliar company (or even from a well-known one) with some excuse as to why they need your personal information. To avoid being scammed, your best bet is to only provide your data if you initiated the call. Even if it is from a company you recognize, don't provide any details. Instead, hang up the phone, and dial the company directly (again, don't use any contact information provided by the original caller).