Identity theft is getting more common. Thirty-three percent of Americans have already been victims. You don’t want to join them if you can help it.
While you should really have resources at your disposal to help you cope in the aftermath of identity theft, it can still be hard to recover from. It can wreck your credit, at least temporarily, and have creditors pounding down your door, at least until you can show them a police report.
Don’t let your identity get stolen. Follow these tips to keep your personal information safe – and thwart thieves who would try to steal your information for their own financial gain.
Watch Out for Phishing Attacks
If you don’t know how to avoid phishing attacks, it’s time to learn. Identity thieves use phishing emails, texts, and phone calls to try to scam you out of personal information so they can access your accounts, borrow money in your name, use your health benefits, and more.
These messages may ask you to follow a link to sign into your account and fix a problem. They’re actually using a mirror site to steal your login credentials. Learn how to avoid these kinds of attacks to protect your bank, shopping, and other accounts.
Protect Your Social Security Number
Your Social Security number is the most private of all your private information. A thief could use it to borrow money or open up credit cards in your name, use your medical benefits, get a driver’s license in your name, and more. Keep your Social Security card in a safe place – don’t carry it around with you. Be careful who you share the number with.
Always Use Unique, Strong Passwords
A unique, strong password is one that an identity thief will have a hard time guessing or cracking, and that could deter all but the most dedicated efforts. A strong password will be at least 14 characters long, with a unique combination of special characters, letters, and numbers. You should change your password every 60 to 90 days or sooner if it’s been compromised in some way.
Use Transaction Alerts
Transaction alerts let you know when a transaction is posted to your bank or credit card accounts. If someone steals your card or account information, transaction alerts will let you know about suspicious activity from the very first transaction. That’s better than waking up in the morning to a drained bank account or a maxed-out card.
Monitor Your Mail
Identity thieves often steal mail in order to gain access to personal information or to use those pre-approved credit card offers you might sometimes get in the mail. Sign up for Informed Delivery so you’ll see what you’re supposed to be getting and you’ll know if anything goes missing from your mailbox.
Shred Your Statements
Bank statements, credit card statements, and other such documentation contain a lot of personal information. You should always shred private documents before disposing of them. But don’t forget to read them first – you might notice suspicious activity on one of your accounts when you do.
Lock Your Mobile Device
Plenty of people get so caught up in protecting themselves online that they forget about physical security. Your mobile device contains all kinds of personal information and could give a thief access to your email, social media accounts, banking apps, and credit card apps. Use the lock screen so that if your phone gets lost or stolen, you’ll at least have a chance to wipe it remotely before the thieves access it.
Use Identity Theft Protection
A good identity theft protection suite offers features like dark web monitoring, so you can know immediately if your personal information is compromised on the dark web. You’ll also get social media monitoring, email filtering, and more. Perhaps most importantly, most services offer you a live helpline and insurance coverage to help you repair the damage identity theft can leave behind.
Consider Freezing Your Credit
If you’re not able to monitor your own credit closely, you’re at high risk of having your identity stolen, or you’re simply paranoid, you can have your credit frozen. Just call up one of the three major credit reporting bureaus – Experian, Transunion, or Equifax – and tell them you want to put a freeze on your credit. No one will be able to take out any credit in your name as long as the freeze is in place.
The downside is that “no one” includes you. You won’t be able to get a mortgage or open a credit card, or anything else that requires credit, without calling and having the freeze removed.
It may not always be possible to avoid identity theft, but you can dodge it most of the time when you use the right precautions. Safeguard your identifying information carefully, and protect your finances from thieves.