According to the FTC, identity theft is one of the top consumer complaints. Identity theft is a major violation that not only screws up your credit, but shakes your sense of security. The worst part is, oftentimes, you’re unaware that it has happened until it’s too late. The best defense when it comes to protecting your identity is prevention. Read on to learn about the top 10 identity theft prevention tips.
- 1 Shred Bank and Credit Card Statements
- 2 Opt Out of Pre-Approved Credit Cards/Junk Mail
- 3 Don’t Keep Your SSN Card in Your Wallet
- 4 Use Complex Passwords/Update Often
- 5 Check Your Credit Report Often
- 6 Beware of Phishing Scams
- 7 Get Identity Theft Protection
- 8 Computer Software Protection
- 9 Be Cautious Shopping Online
- 10 Don’t Give Personal Info Over the Phone
Shred Bank and Credit Card Statements
Your bank and credit card statements contain valuable information that can make you vulnerable to identity theft. Information such as your return address, name, bank information, mortgage lender, and social security number, are all information that will help a sophisticated thief steal your identity. This information can be found on bank and credit card statements, but it may also be available on medical bills, retail invoices, tax returns, etc. Stealing straight from the trash is the easiest way for the thieves to obtain your identity. To protect yourself, make sure you shred any items with personal data on it, and be sure to shred it tiny enough so that a thief can put the puzzle pieces back together.
Opt Out of Pre-Approved Credit Cards/Junk Mail
One of your best lines of defense is to have your name removed from credit card offers, and other junk mail. Credit card offers make it especially easy for a crafty thief to steal your identity, because they can simply use a credit application to get a new credit card account. To opt out, call the Credit Bureau at 1 (888) 567-8688, and tell them you would like to be removed from their marketing list. You can also do this online at www.optoutprescreen.com. To have yourself removed from other marketing mail lists, contact the DMA (Direct Marketing Association). Have your name placed on the “do not mail” “do not call” and “do not email” list. To do this, visit http://www.dmachoice.org/consumerassistance.php.
Don’t Keep Your SSN Card in Your Wallet
People stealing other folks Social Security Card, which contains the Social Security number, is one of the most common ways that identity is stolen. The number is a completely unique to your identity, and it’s rare that it can be changed. With this number, thieves can open accounts, get credit cards, get a driver’s license, and pretty much start a whole new identity from YOUR information. Needless to say, it will be very bad if someone gets their hands on your SSC. It’s really not necessary to have this card on hand. So unless absolutely necessary, don’t keep this card in your wallet. Keep the card locked safely away until you need to have it.
Use Complex Passwords/Update Often
Because people want to remember their passwords, they have a tendency to pick really simple, easy ones to remember. But this is a big no no, when it comes to identity theft protection. You should pick a password that no one will be able to guess. Switch the case, use numbers and make sure the password is long. The harder it is to figure out, the less likely a thief will be able to guess it. More importantly, don’t forget to update those passwords often. Another recommendation is to have more than one password. Don’t use the same one for all of your accounts. Additionally, don’t walk around with this information in your wallet. Once a thief has stolen your wallet, they can steal any and everything that comes with it.
Check Your Credit Report Often
This is a really easy step that many people neglect to do. You can check your credit report for free once a year. There are three credit bureaus – Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. You can request to view all three reports at once. Or you can request them separately, every four months or so. To order your report, go to www.annualcreditreport.com or call 1 (877) 322-8228. Scan your report for any inaccuracies, and dispute them with a letter. There are many dispute letters available online that you can use for free. You should also place a fraud alert with each of the individual companies. Contact the companies directly at – Equifax (800) 525-6285, Experian (888) 397-3742 and TransUnion (800) 680-7289.
Beware of Phishing Scams
A phishing scam is a message that is sent, stating they would like you to verify personal information like your password, credit details or account information. Other examples of phishing entail Nigerian scams, fake lottery wins and other false messages about winning money. This usually comes in the form of an email. But scammers may also call you directly, or send letters in the mail. Do not click on any links that ask you to click on them to verify your information. A legitimate company would never ask you to verify your information in this way. If they’re a real company, you should be able to find their information online. If it’s someone pretending to be your bank, call the bank directly to verify. Bottom line, don’t ever give out your personal information, unless you made the initial contact.
Get Identity Theft Protection
Identity theft protection will be one of the best investments you make. They will monitor your credit and reimburse you for loss of funds and wages. They take measures to ensure your identity is guarded. There are even some companies that offer identity theft insurance to their employees. There are two main identity theft protection companies – LifeLock and TrustedID. They offer both reactive and preventive measures including fraud alerts and credit freezes. Keep in mind that freezes and fraud alerts are actually things you can do yourself. So take time to consider before actually deciding to spend money on identity theft protection.
Computer Software Protection
It is highly advisable to get spyware or anti-virus software for your computer. Without this, you may end up losing all of your data due to a virus, or worse – have your personal information stolen from computer hackers. You may think you are protected with your anti-virus software. But that’s simply not enough. Hackers are getting more and more sophisticated, in their ability to infiltrate other people’s computers. To make sure you are fully protected, install a firewall, anti-spyware and anti-virus program. They come in a variety prices. But there are also free programs like Avast Software, which will let you know when your computer is at risk of being invaded by viruses.
Be Cautious Shopping Online
Whenever you shop online, unless you see some form of a security symbol on the website, don’t go forward with the transaction. Anywhere that you need to give your personal information, or offer up credit card information should be protected by “https.” Always shop from a URL that you are familiar with. Research beforehand to make sure the site is legit, particularly if it’s your first time shopping on the site. Other things you might want to consider – getting a credit card just for online shopping. If you use the same credit card, as your other main bills, or one that is connected to a bank account, this could prove problematic, if ever your identify is stolen. Lastly, don’t ever store your information on the store website. While, it is super convenient, it also makes your information easier to steal.
Don’t Give Personal Info Over the Phone
Where phishing usually involves some transfer of money, there are other scammers who will call, requesting personal information for other reasons. One of which could be about legal bills or taxes. Sometimes, people may call, pretending like they are with a law office, stating they want to talk to you about your “debt.” They may say that they can help you with your credit. Of course, you will need to offer up your personal information, in order for them to do so. While you may actually have some credit issues, a creditor wouldn’t need to speak to you directly at all. They’re much more likely to send your information to collections and call it a day. Do not ever give your personal information over the phone, unless you are 100 percent sure it’s from a trusted source.
Having your identity stolen can really wreak havoc on your life. Even though it’s not your fault, it can be a complicated process to rectify the situation. That being said, your best course of action is to do everything possible to prevent that from happening in the first place. If you keep the above tips in mind, you’ll have greater peace of mind.