It can happen to anyone, at anytime, and according to the FBI, roughly 10 million Americans fall victim every year.
Identity theft is a serious threat with lasting consequences, and perpetrators are becoming increasingly savvy when it comes to stealing your personal information for their own nefarious gain.
Whether armed with your social security number, your mother’s maiden name, or your email password, identity thieves gaining access to your account or credit information can inflict lasting damage, the kind that takes consumers years to untangle.
The good news is, there are simple steps anyone can take to prevent identity theft, and to protect valuable personal information. Here are some tips:
- Invest in a shredder. This is key not only in destroying receipts, bank statements, and other sensitive paperwork, but “junk mail”, too. Credit card offers and similar unsolicited mail should be shredded before discarding. As crazy as it sounds, those with ill intent may very well be pawing through curbside trash for tidbits of useful data.
- Watch the wallet. Whether through outright theft, or through electronic data “skimming”, the information in your wallet or purse is at risk. Carry the minimum necessary at any time, in a metal wallet that offers protection from skimming. Such wallets are increasingly available, and effective in preventing theft.
- Be vigilant when it comes to certain information. Anytime you’re asked for particularly sensitive data such as your social security number, a red flag should go up, alerting you to possible attempts at identity theft. Unsolicited emails that ask for passwords, or phone calls insisting you share account numbers should be viewed with great skepticism. When in doubt, keep quiet.
- Be careful online. Websites beginning with “https” rather than “http” are generally more trustworthy, so pay attention to the web address. If shopping online, never do it on public WIFI systems or through a smartphone app (these are far less secure) and always – ALWAYS – log out before leaving a website.
- Take passwords seriously. Never use a simple password across multiple websites. Free password generators are easy to find and simple to use, so take advantage! Secure passwords are especially important when it comes to online banking and shopping.
- Watch your snail mail. If you’re expecting a bank statement or bill that hasn’t arrived, be alert to possible mail theft, a common means of stealing valuable data. Likewise, pore over bank and credit card statements carefully as they arrive. Report anything even remotely suspicious. Financial institutions will be glad to share your “better safe than sorry” mindset.
- Go to: checking your credit
- Work with your employer. Talk with your employer’s bookkeeper or human resource department, and find out what steps they take to protect your identity. Employers are privy to a great deal of your personal information, and they should be taking steps to keep it safe.
- Trust the professionals. Find out what services your financial institution or credit card company can offer when it comes to identity protection. Often, they provide some insurance against criminal transactions. If you’re not happy with the level of protection provided, shop around for better security.Remember, there’s no way anyone can ensure 100% protection from identity theft. Sadly, when it happens, the repercussions can be devastating. A little bit of vigilance goes a long way in safeguarding your most sensitive data, and in preventing what has become an increasingly common occurrence.Identity theft can happen to anyone at any time. Don’t let it happen to you.
Double check your credit at least annually (if not more) to see if anyone has been tampering with your credit/identity:
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