Identity theft occurs when personal information is stolen and used to commit fraud, usually for financial gain. This crime can take on many forms and often requires valuable time and money to clear your good name. Guarding yourself against falling victim to identity theft starts with being vigilant and making identity theft monitoring a routine practice. Here, Beau Dietl & Associates discusses simple methods for making prevention your first line of defense.
Safeguard Your Social Security Number
Your nine-digit Social Security number is the key to your identity — it’s used to get a job, collect Social Security benefits, open financial accounts, and more. It can be accessed in several ways digitally as well as through good old-fashioned pick-pocketing. While keeping your Social Security card in your purse or wallet can be handy on several occasions, it can also leave you vulnerable. If you think it’s been stolen, contact the Social Security Administration immediately.
Create Complex Passwords
With the number of online accounts the average person routinely accesses, it’s tempting to use the same password across the board. However, if it’s easy for you to remember, it’s probably also easy for a hacker to crack. Avoiding obvious personal information, such as birthdays, names, and familiar places is a good starting point.
Implement hard-to-guess passwords, like unique words and sentences, for extra security. You should also activate 2-factor authentication where applicable. You can even create and store randomly generated passwords for each account using a digital password manager. Not only will your password be strong, but accessing your accounts through the manager is often a seamless, 1-click process.
Use Public Wi-Fi Networks with Caution
While using safe, well-known websites may be a common practice of yours, using a public network to browse puts you at risk for cybersecurity threats. Much like eavesdropping, hackers may be able to use that network to monitor your activity.
Whether you’re connected to the Wi-Fi network in a store, the airport, or a local coffee shop, play it extra safe. Avoid logging into your go-to credit card, banking, and shopping accounts, and never leave your device unattended. Also, consider using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) service or app to ensure secure connectivity. Designed to let you connect to a private network through a public network, a VPN uses encryptions to help mask your data.
Minimize Paper Mail
If you receive bills and account statements in paper form, someone could take them out of your mailbox or forward them to another address. Luckily, going paperless is an option many financial companies offer. Take advantage of online banking and bill-pay services to help cut down on the amount of mail you receive.
You can also sign up for Informed Delivery® by USPS, which lets you digitally preview each batch of incoming mail ahead of time to make sure you’ve received everything that is supposed to come to your door. Thanks to this service, you can quickly notice if something’s missing.
Monitor Your Accounts
From bank accounts and credit cards to insurance claims, financial statements provide detailed transaction history. Routinely reading through your financial statements can help ensure everything is in order. Comparing receipts and keeping an eye out for unauthorized transactions can help you catch irregular activity promptly.
If something does happen, taking advantage of identity theft protection services and mobile alerts can help. While no service can fully protect against this crime, monitoring and recovery services can help you discover and remedy unauthorized activity before too much damage is done.
Review Your Credit Report
Data breaches happen when someone gains unauthorized access to an organization’s digital records, such as Social Security numbers and credit card numbers. While it might seem like an impossible task to go through all your business and personal accounts, using your credit report as a baseline can help.
Take advantage of your right to a free annual credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com. With this report, you can make sure your information is correct and your credit score is exactly where it should be. Also, companies often offer identity restoration services to help mitigate the effects of data breaches on their clientele. Utilizing these services can also help remedy negative outcomes.
Keep Personal Information Private
Have you ever received an unsolicited call asking for personal details? Placing phone calls from fictitious businesses and government agencies is a tactic often used by criminals to gain access to personal information. When you receive a suspicious call, ask the person to provide a supervisor’s name and phone number. This tactic might not only deter the spam caller but also provide you with an opportunity to check in with the institution they’re posing as to see if the call was genuine.
Shred Sensitive Documents
It’s tempting to simply toss out old statements when you’re done reviewing them. However, you could be leaving your Social Security number and other personal information vulnerable through your trash. Be careful about what you throw away. If your paperwork contains personal identifiers, shred it to ensure there’s no way your identity can be stolen. Aside from account statements, making it a habit to destroy expired credit cards, receipts, and credit offers is a good idea. Many shredders on the market today can handle plastic and paper to render most documents unusable.
Make a Prevention and Recovery Plan
If you think you’ve fallen victim to identity theft, reporting it to the Federal Trade Commission is the first step to preserving your rights and your credit score. For more information about identity theft monitoring and identity restoration, contact Beau Dietl & Associates in New York, NY today.