How to Protect Your Identity
More than 60 million Americans had their identities stolen in 2018, a significant increase from 2015, where more than 15 million consumers were affected. With identity theft numbers on the rise, it certainly doesn’t appear likely that scammers are going away anytime soon. While there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to preventing identity theft, there are some things you can do to make it more difficult for scammers to obtain your personal information. Here are a few of them:
- Amp Up Your Passwords
We all have our favorite passwords that we tend to use over and over again. But if one of the sites that utilizes that favorite password is breached, the breach can be much bigger for you personally. Your best bet is to create an individual password for each site you utilize. Remember to use a combination of upper and lowercase letters, special characters, and numbers, and forego using birthdays, middle names, names of your kids, or the ever popular 123456, and use a password manager to keep them straight. You should also make a habit of changing your passwords every 3-6 months.
- Be Stingy with Your Social Security Number
Be very careful where and with whom you share your social security number. While banks, employers, and government institutions may require a social security number, most others place do not. Be particularly wary of online institutions that ask for it. Same goes for telephone numbers, email addresses, etc.
- Dispose of All Financial Information Properly
Properly does not mean tossing them in the trash. Criminals have become very savvy, and know that millions of people continue to haphazardly dispose of personal information. Invest in a small shredder and shred everything that has personal or financial information on it, including bank statements, cancelled checks, bills, credit card statements, insurance plan information, and paystubs.
- Be Aware of Phishing Attempts
Scammers have continued to perfect their craft, in many cases creating an email you’d be hard-pressed to identify as counterfeit. To that end, be wary of answering unsolicited emails from financial institutions requesting your login and password, or other sensitive data. Because they appear to be authentic, many people click on the link that’s usually included, which will take them directly to the scammer. If you’re ever unsure about the legitimacy of an email, check with the financial institution itself.
- Limit the Amount of Information You Share on Social Media
Don’t provide a personal email or worse, an address or phone number on any of your social media accounts. And while tons of people share vacation photos and such, be sure not to mention specifics about any trips you’re going to take. Also, be wary of those personality quizzes that pop up on social media sites such as Facebook, since the information you reveal may be collected and used against you.
- Keep an Eye on Your Credit
Sign up for a free credit report annually from the three credit agencies. Take the time to look over your report from top to bottom and take immediate action on anything that is incorrect, such as accounts you did not open, or debts that are not yours. There are also numerous free apps available through your credit card company or online where you can track your overall credit score and be notified when something impacts your report.
- Review Your Accounts Regularly
Take the time to examine your bank accounts and credit card statements regularly. Remember, they make mistakes too. Don’t take it for granted that everything is correct. Most financial institutions will not hold you responsible for expenses that are not yours, but in order to obtain a credit from the bank, you have to know about them, and bring it to their attention promptly. It may take a few extra minutes each month, but it’s definitely worth it.