Preventing identity theft these days can be harder than avoiding a Kardashian on television. In fact, there’s really no way to guarantee that you’ll never be a victim of ID theft.
You can, however, reduce your risk, and take steps to make sure you’re aware as soon as you’ve been targeted. In 2017, there was an average of four data breaches every day according to the Identity Theft Resource Center. More than likely your personal information has already been compromised. So what can you do?
Here are 10 ways to help reduce the risk of identity theft now:
1. Don’t Give out Personal Information to Just Anyone
There are a lot of scammers and identity thieves out there who will pretend to be a debt collector, bank, charity or a local business in order to convince you to give out your social security number, street address, date of birth, or any information that they can use. They will call you, email you and send you mail so be diligent in reviewing any of the above communications.
2. Avoid Clicking on Links You Are Unsure About
Fraudsters are really good about attracting your attention through emails that look like they come from businesses or people you know (and don’t assume just because you know the name of the person sending the email it’s actually them—check the actual email address too).
If something seems off about an email and they are asking you to click a link to an offer or action, don’t click on that link. Instead, roll over the link with your mouse and you can see the destination URL that you will be sent to. This is a safer approach and can help you avoid malware, phishing scams or viruses to gather your data. If it turns out it’s fake, you can let the business know so they warn others.
3. Shred Your Documents
Using a shredder can take extra time but that adds a layer of protection down the road. While many people are opting for email or text alerts for bill notifications, identity thieves still use dumpster-diving as a way to gather personal information.
4. Don’t Carry Your Social Security Card
You rarely need to show the card, you just need to remember the number. One mistake of losing the card can lead to a lifetime of trouble. Keep your Social Security card in a safe place at home or in a deposit box.
5. Only Carry Credit Cards You Actually Need Daily
There’s no need to carry around cards you rarely use. Minimize the risk of losing your cards by only having the ones you use on a regular basis.
6. Protect Your Mailbox
This old-school theft is still common today especially around tax return time when checks start showing up in the mail. If you can lock your mailbox do so or add a key lock if possible.
You may also want to consider having smaller packages delivered to your work address so you receive them during the day versus having them left unattended on your porch. If you are going to be gone for awhile, consider placing a hold on your mail with the US Postal Service.
7. Monitor Your Online Accounts
If you haven’t set up account notifications from the financial institutions with whom you do business, then do so. Staying up-to-date on changes to your accounts is important and a quick notification sent to your smart device can make all the difference in maintaining peace of mind. There are also plenty of products out there that provide credit and identity monitoring (Experian’s CreditWorks is one of them).
8. Create Strong Passwords
Avoid using the same password across multiple sites as well. You can use password managers that are available or the suggested password features from your smartphone as well.
9. Use Two-Factor Authentication
This tool adds a layer of security to your online accounts in addition to your password. Two-factor authentication requires you to provide a second piece of proof to verify your identity which can mean entering a code sent to your smartphone or computer, and many institutions require it when customers want to change account details.
10. Don’t Use Public Wifi to Access Sensitive Data
We all seem to want to be connected all the time, so using free public wi-fi is very tempting. It’s not always safe though, hackers and others can set up their own free wifi networks and scrape your data as a result. Make sure the network you are connected to is secure and can be trusted. If you’re not sure, then don’t take the chance.