How many of you keep your social security card in your wallets?
How many keep your passport or birth certificate lying around the house?
If you do, you run the risk of having more than a few items stolen or a few fraudulent charges on a credit/debit card if you lose your wallet or are the victim of a burglary. You are protected in case your cards fall into the wrong hands, and your insurance will help replace items taken from your home. What you are not covered for, however, is what happens after someone gets their hands on your passport, social security card or any other document that can be used to steal your identity.
And know this: identity theft isn’t only about accessing your financial information either–anything from signing up for a membership or cell phone to actually taking over you identity can occur so it’s not always an easy event to recover from, or even detect.
The best way to protect yourself is to be diligent about how you handle your identifying information. Limiting the documents that are available to be lost or stolen, and not allowing them to fall into the wrong hands is the best way to protect yourself against identity thieves. But, it’s not just about hiding the major things. There are many ways in which prospective identity thieves can get a hold of the things they would to make your life a living hell.
These tips and ideas will go a long way in helping you to keep your identity (and money) your own:
Contact all of the credit bureaus and notify them that you want to “opt-out” from receiving pre-approved credit card offer (this is good for either 5 years at a time or permanently).
Sign up for electronic billing/statements with all of your creditors, banks, and anyone else who will be billing you (insurance companies, telephone and utility companies, cell phone provider, etc). It is infinitely more difficult to hack into a secure network than it is to walk up to a mailbox and sift through the mail.
Sign up for automatic bill-pay. This will reduce the number of checks that you will have to write, thereby reducing the chances of having your mail raided and thieves having your banking information.
Understand that regardless of what hang-ups some people might have about transmitting information electronically, it is infinitely more difficult for someone to hack your computer to steal your information than it is for anyone to open your mailbox and take its contents.
If you are not planning on applying for new lines of credit in the near future, you can place a freeze on your credit reports. This will prevent a credit reporting company from releasing your credit report without your consent. You will be provided a security passcode to release the freeze or to allow temporary access to a given third-party, so access to the file is not totally blocked. Be warned, though: using this method may be a great way to protect yourself, but it also cost money to bot freeze and “thaw” your credit files (the price varies depending upon where you live and your age), and it may also delay the time that it takes to complete the application process for new lines of credit.
Invest in a high quality crosscut or diamond-cut shredder. The smaller the pieces of sensitive information the shredder can make, the more difficult it would be to piece the documents back together.
Take advantage of your free annual credit report. This is the only truly free method of obtaining your credit reports (from all three of the major bureaus) without having to worry about calling to cancel a trial subscription and being charged those annoying recurring monthly fees for a service that you don’t even want/use.
Pay for at least one additional copy of your credit report 6 months after obtaining your free copy. Regularly monitoring your credit report is an important method of protecting yourself and helps reduce the effects of having your identity stolen in terms of financial fraud.
If you have to send anything in the mail that contains sensitive information, take the extra effort to personally hand the item to the postal carrier, or use the blue US Postal Service mailboxes. They are more difficult to break into, and are much more secure than the standard home mailbox which can be accessed by virtually anyone passing by.
Never respond directly to requests for information made via e-mail, especially those asking for you to click through a link and provide account or log-in information. Real companies will never contact you via this method and they should be treated with extreme caution. You should delete them immediately, but you can take the extra step of going directly to the real company’s website and search their help section for the e-mail address of the fraud (phishing) department and forward the suspicious message to them for further action.
Make up passwords that are obscure to others, but easy for you to remember. Never use an important date (birthday, anniversary) or common phrase that would be easy to guess. For added security incorporate numbers, symbols, and capitalization (many sites use case-sensitive passwords and will not allow access unless they are entered with 100% accuracy) in your passwords.
- Ensure that your home network is password-protected. Hackers say that the easiest way to get into someone’s computer is to just roam around a neighborhood scanning for open networks. It takes no effort at all to gain access without any security.
- Keep all computers updated and have anti-virus/malware scanners running at all times. Use automatic update options if you can since security patches are issued regularly and you don’t want to be caught with outdated security protocols.
Examine your bank and credit card statements thoroughly each month for unrecognized transactions. Being proactive with your accounts is one of the most effective ways of catching fraud early and preventing further damage to your credit.
When shopping or filling out forms online, only do so if the site is secure. To verify the security, first check the address bar–the page address should start with “https” which designates the secure server connection. You can also look in the address bar or bottom of the browser window for the security level (which is usually indicated by a closed lock or even a green/yellow/red color-indication system)
- Don’t rely solely on a credit monitoring company to protect you. They only get information as quick as a creditor will report it, and by the time that happens, it may already be too late.
- Limit the information you share on social media. Bits and pieces can be put together from several sources by crafty identity thieves to give them all the information they need to get you. Missing out on birthday or anniversary wishes is much better then fighting to reclaim your identity.
- Limit your use of checks as much as possible. With advances in technology replicating a person’s check fraudulently is not very difficult.
- Try not to lose sight of your credit or debit card when shopping. If you can’t see the card, you don’t know what the cashier is doing with it.
There is no way to guarantee that you will never become a victim of identity theft. Even if you are one of those people who doesn’t use credit cards, you still have plenty of ways to fall prey to identity thieves. What you can do, however, is make it as difficult as possible for unscrupulous people to do you harm.
If you are interested in finding out even more about identity theft, head on over to The Identity Protection Guide website and sign up for the mailing list. It is a new site that is under construction which, when launched publicly, will provide a comprehensive resource for all things relating to identity theft protection. You’ll find detailed descriptions of scams, ways to protect yourself from thieves, detailed contact info for state, national, and non-profit organizations, forums and more.