Identity theft is something terrifying to think about, and the truth is that identity thieves have gotten very creative about how they get ahold of people’s personal information. They Dumpster dive. They trick people with scam phishing emails. They change addresses that credit card bills are sent to. And plenty of people don’t realize their identity has been stolen until charges they didn’t make appear or their credit report tanks. Since identity theft is, unfortunately, a big problem, we’ve come up with 8 tips for preventing identity theft.
8 tips to preventing identity theft.
1. Recognize identity theft.
The first thing is to know when identity theft is happening. Here are a few telltale signs that your personal information has been compromised.
- You notice inexplicable debts.
- You notice information on your credit report that’s not correct.
- You aren’t receiving your bills in the mail.
- You get credit cards you didn’t apply for in the mail.
- You have a bad credit score or you’re denied a loan and you can’t for the life of you figure out why.
- You keep getting rude calls from debt collectors about things you didn’t buy.
2. Protect your Social Security Number.
You also need to safeguard your Social Security Number (SSN). This is a very important number. Protect it.
- Don’t write it down or keep it in your wallet/purse.
- Don’t give your SSN unless it’s completely necessary.
- If you’re getting a loan or something like that, be mindful of when you give your Social Security Number.
- If you do need to provide your SSN, ask why it’s needed, what it’s going to be used for, and how it will be protected.
- Make sure your checks don’t list your driver’s license number or SSN.
3. Shred documents that have your personal information on them.
Invest in a paper shredder. Use it if you have any documents, mail, paperwork, or so on that you don’t need and want to get rid of but that list your personal information.
Also, be careful with receipts. Don’t just chuck them in the trash – someone could get their hands on them.
4. Monitor your credit report.
You can get one copy of your credit report each year from each of the three credit bureaus. Keep an eye on your credit report and address anything that doesn’t seem quite right on it.
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5. Bring in the mail every day.
Don’t leave your mail sitting in the mailbox where an enterprising identity thief could find it and use it. When you go on vacation, get the post office to hold your mail. Or ask a trusted neighbor to pick up your mail for you.
And another thing about the mail – if you have to send a bill or a letter that has personal information, use a locked Post Office drop box instead of using your mailbox.
6. Be computer savvy.
Online can be a very dangerous place when it comes to identity theft, and it’s important to understand the various ways that hackers or thieves might try to trick you online. If you’re wise to the tricks, you’ll be less likely to fall for them.
- Phishing: A scammer can send an email impersonating either a trusted institution (like a bank) or a person in order to trick the unsuspecting recipient into divulging information.
- Cookies: Cookies can be dropped onto your computer when you visit website, and those cookies can be used to track your activities online. (You can, however, adjust your browser so that you have to approve cookies or you can just block them.)
- Spam: Use a trustworthy anti-spam product to filter spam.
- Spyware: Spyware is software that can track your Internet use. You can unintentionally download it when you download photos or music.
Now, to be savvy online, use the following tips:
- Get a reputable anti-virus software.
- Check that any website you submit personal information to (i.e. when you’re shopping) is a secure site – it will have https:// at the beginning and an icon of a padlock.
- Use a strong password that’s not easy to guess.
- Don’t use your birthday, mother’s maiden name, etc.
- Don’t use obvious words like password.
- Don’t use a string of numbers like 123456.
- Use a mix of letters and special characters (&%$!@#) and numbers.
- Password protect your credit cards, bank account, and phone account.
- If you have to get rid of a computer, make sure it’s totally clean and doesn’t still have any of your information on it.
7. Verify whom you’re speaking to if you have to provide personal information.
If you’re on the phone, communicating via email, or online, be sure to verify that who you’re talking to is who you think they are. Don’t click on links in emails (as a general rule.) When in doubt, call the customer service line on your account statements to verify that you’re not accidentally providing a thief with your personal information.
8. Watch your personal belongings.
We often associate identity theft with being online, but what could happen if someone stole your purse or wallet? They’d have a whole lot of personal information that they could use to steal your identity. So, make yourself a little list of all the items or documents you keep in your wallet or purse and stash it in a safe place so you can reference it if you do ever lose your wallet or purse. You’ll know what credit cards you have to cancel and what places you need to reach out to. (And if your stuff was stolen, you’ll know what to tell the police.)
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These are just a few ways you can protect yourself from identity theft. Keep your personal information safe and think twice before providing any sensitive information, whether it’s online or over the phone. Keep an eye out for any suspicious emails or online ads or links. When in doubt, don’t click!