Most people don’t give much thought to identity theft until they find themselves a victim. Unfortunately, when you do become a victim, it takes countless hours to clear your name and credit history. With this type of crime on the rise, you may not know what you can do to protect yourself. These eight tips can help you avoid identity theft and the headache that goes with it.
- Choose Your Passwords Wisely
How many times have you heard of people using “password,” easy number combinations such as 1-2-3-4, or even their own birthdates as a password to protect their accounts? Worse yet, some people don’t use password protection for their cell phones, laptops, or other electronic devices. Passwords should be complex enough to deter cybercriminals but memorable enough for you to use it. You should also include capital letters, numbers, and other symbols to increase effectiveness.
- Exercise Caution on Public Networks
Don’t get too excited about connecting to Wi-Fi at every coffee shop, store, or other public location you visit. Thieves are counting on you to let your guard down when you use public networks. You should especially avoid signing into your credit card or bank accounts unless you are on a secure, private Wi-Fi network.
- Monitor Your Mailbox
Do you pay bills by check or receive paper statements? If so, you have another avenue for identity thieves to access your information. Set up online banking and bill paying to eliminate paper mail. You should also check your mail daily; don’t leave uncollected mail sitting in your mailbox for someone else to find.
- Check Your Accounts Frequently
This should not become an obsession, but you should sign into your credit, banking, and investment accounts regularly to monitor any activity. If you see something that looks suspicious, you can immediately notify the company to prevent additional loss and begin an investigation.
- Review Your Credit Reports
Even credit report companies cannot avoid identity theft issues, but for the average consumer, these companies are another tool for you to screen suspicious activity. Most credit report companies allow you to receive periodic reports for free, but they may charge a fee for a subscription or more detailed information. In addition, if your information has been compromised through a data breach, like in the case of Equifax in 2017, you may be able to sign up for credit tracking for free through whatever company was hacked.
- Protect Your Social Security Number
If you must give out your social security number, you should do your best to memorize it and avoid keeping a physical copy lying around. That means no texting your number or carrying your card around with you in your wallet. Your Social Security card should be kept in a secure spot with other important documents, like a locked safe.
- Do Not Share Other Personal Information
Scammers also try to harvest your personal information through unsolicited or fake phone calls, so never give out your personal information over the phone. No bank or credit card company is going to call you and ask for your account number or date of birth. If you receive a phone call that you consider suspicious, ask the person to provide a supervisor’s name or a number where you can call back. If the phone call is legitimate, the customer service person should be happy to share that with you.
- When in Doubt, Shred It
Yet another way to protect yourself from identity theft is by shredding mail or other paper documents before you throw them away. Yes, there are people fishing through garbage until they find the information they are looking for, so you don’t have to make it easy for them to obtain your account numbers. If you don’t have a shredder, you can see if your community offers a free shredding day, or, at the very least, rip up your unneeded paperwork in small pieces before throwing it away.
The key for you to avoid identity theft is by being vigilant, because criminals are always on the prowl. If you suspect anything suspicious, do not delay reporting it; your awareness is your best defense. If you have suffered a loss due to identity theft, reach out to a private investigator like Beau Dietl & Associates, who can try to hunt down the thief.