How to Protect Yourself From Identity Theft
With the advancement of the internet, it is becoming increasingly easier to apply for loans, credit cards, bank accounts, mortgages and more all from the safety of your home. The downside to this advancement, is that unwanted parties will use your information for their self-gain. Think of the number of people who have access to your name, date of birth, address and even your social security number. It’s infuriating knowing that companies such as utilities or phone providers ask for and use your social security number, date of birth and address when applying for their services. Unfortunately, many of these services are needed such as heat and electricity. We need to know how to best protect ourselves from identity theft, or at the very least, identify when it has happened so you can nip it in the butt before it goes too far. Let’s go over the ways that you can prevent and protect your identity to save you the hassle of dealing with identity theft.
Don’t Give Out Social Security Information
Your Social Security card is one of the most important documents you will possess. With the exception of applying for and being granted a new social security number, it will always be the same. This is why it is so important to safeguard it from unwelcomed intruders looking to use your social security number for their own profit. An easy way for perpetrators to gain access to your social security number is when a victim accidently gives it to them. Even though many companies will take your social security number as a way of identifying you, they are required to take precautions to safeguard this information. This means when speaking with a representative, try and find an account number or member number to identify yourself. Also keep in mind that many scammers will call you pretending to be one of these companies in attempts to trick you into giving them valuable information. Remember do not give out your social security number for any purpose to these crooks and look for ways to verify who they are such as calling their listed number.
Don’t Give Out Your Personal Information
This is personal information that you need to safeguard and is unfortunately becoming too easy to get through the internet through reverse number checks and online white/yellow pages. Just because they can get your information why make it easy for these would be offenders. Many theifs have made a fortune harboring this information and selling it to well… anyone who is willing to pay for it. You can search a phone number and get that persons first name, last name, date of birth, address, or even who they are related too. Because of the overwhelming number of identity thefts, companies are becoming smarter buy asking preliminary questions such as asking for the make and model of your current vehicle or your last employment before proceeding with any application. If you receive a phone call with the individual asking odd questions, don’t hesitate to hang up or call the actual company to verify that it was them.
Don’t Keep Your Social Security Card in Your Wallet or Purse
Often we fall victim to complacency, as we do the same things over and over. Until one day when it comes back to haunt us and you realized your wallet or purse was stolen. Don’t leave your social security card in your wallet as one day it may be stolen from your house, vehicle or accidently left at the last place you visited. click here to see how to protect your vehicle from theft. Various identifying information can be found in your wallet and/or purse such as your license, bank cards, credit cards, address, and date of birth. All of this information coupled with a social security number, leaves too much opportunity for these offenders to steal your identity.
Keep Your Mail Safe
Your mail is an invaluable source of information for offenders prowling around looking for their next victim. Your mail will supply required information such as your first name, last name, date of birth and even last four of your social security, combined with bank account or credit account numbers. In order to safeguard this information, place a lock on your mailbox or install secured mailbox. If you are going to be away for a prolonged period of time, you can always call your local postal office or visit their website to initiate a mail freeze, where you can have them temporary stop the delivery of your mail until you arrive back. Click here to learn how to better protect your home when leaving on a vacation.
Pay Attention to Bills/Statements
Every month or annually you will receive important statements in your mail or in the case of paperless statements, in your email. These are significant documents as they will hold important information. Make sure to check your statements as often as possible or even install your credit card or banks app to check daily. If you see any unrecognized purchases, then you can immediately notify your creditor that your account has been compromised. From there they can issue you a new card or bank account if necessary. Double check that the only authorized parties are those you have agreed too. Also, if you stop receiving statements that you should be receiving, this is also a cause for concern. Identity thieves are becoming more complex and will also find away to gain access to your account through online or phone and will change the address or email so that the victim does not notice the discrepancies.
Use Firewalls/Security Features on Phone
We all know that there are safety features that we can use on our laptops and Mac’s, but many of the top brands actually offer protection for your phones as well. It is important to note that although firewalls malware softwares and alike security measures are becoming increasingly advance, many of the offenders creating these viruses and malware programs are also adapting to these adversities. Remember, do not click on emails, link or photos that you do not know and trust. Unfortunately, many times these will direct you to download malware or software automatically (you may lose control of your device in these phishing scams) causing your information to be hacked.
Two Factor Authentication
Two factor authentication has been implemented in all but the smallest programs and websites. It is easy and almost always suggested to sign up for two factor authentication when signing up for a website that has any sort of important information on you. This could be your medical provider, your amazon/Walmart/target account, work website, school login, credit card providers, bank providers and many other entities. These sites hold critical information such as your account numbers/documents and personal details. Two factor authentication is typically set up throught your phone and only takes a couple more seconds of your time in order to log in. Keep in mind that losing your phone may limit the websites you can authenticate and should be kept in mind when choosing to set up this security feature if you have a bad habit of losing your phone.
Store Password Information in a Secure Place
Remembering and logging into various websites has become a huge pain. It seems that every websites require a different password or someone already has you username. Often times our laptops, tablets and phones will remember our information for us, only requiring us to use face ID or a thumb print. But what happens if you need to log into your account with another device and you can’t remember your password, or it has changed since the last time you logged in on this device. Many of us tend to write down our usernames and passwords for the most important websites or accounts, so that we could readily access them. Yes it is nice having the ease of access, but keeping that information safe from predators and scammers is extremely important. Make sure to keep this information as safe as possible so that it doesn’t fall into the hands of these criminals. You can always use a spare tablet or old phone with no access (or disabled access) to the internet and store them on there. This way they are safeguarded by a password and are protected from the wall of offenders hiding behind the guise of the internet.
Create Complex Passwords
Apple and Microsoft began implementing software, where they will suggest super complex passwords with your newly formed accounts, with the option of remembering the passwords for you. This works great for users who do not switch between devices often, as they can easily access their accounts and logins with the use of face ID or a thumb print. However, remembering these passwords is close to impossible. Sure you may be able to remember one or two of these long computer generated passwords, but remembering all of them will be close to impossible. This meaning many of us resort to making our own passwords and will have a variety of letters, numbers and symbols to make our complex passwords. Don’t fall victim to a simple password and keep your password hard to guess, even for computers.
Review Your Credit Reports
Since the popularization of Credit Karma (Free credit checking software) it has become increasingly easy to check your credit report online, multiple times, without hurting your credit score. Many major credit card companies and banks have also implemented this service and can be used at no cost to you. Frequently check your credit and remember that it takes weeks or months for some reported hard inquiries or loans/accounts to show up on your account. This is why reporting any discrepancies immediately may help reduce the chances of the offenders using your information for their benefit. If you notice any discrepancies, elect to freeze your credit as soon as possible.
Shred Personal Documents
If you actually look at the statements that you have lying around, they hold valuable information about your life. With the same philosophy as keeping you mail safe, you can purchase a safe or locked filing cabinet to hold all of your personal documents. If you want to dispose of or trash these documents, then it would be a better approach to shred or burn them eliminating the risk of someone entering your house and obtaining this information. Click here to learn how to protect your home when leaving for a vacation. Here is a list of personal documents you may want to consider shredding or burning when disposing of them:
- Bank Statements
- Credit Card Statements
- Loan/Mortgage/credit card offers
- Medical Statements
- Expired/unused debit and credit cards
- 401 (k) or other saving statements
- Personal Records
- W2’s and other tax information
- Duplicate or excess certificates
- Medical, utility, and personal bills/statements
Checklist of Ways to Protect Your Identity From Identity Theft.
- Don’t Give Out Social Security Information
- Don’t Give Out Your Personal Information
- Don’t Keep Your Social Security Card in Your Wallet or Purse
- Keep Your Mail Safe
- Pay Attention to Bills/Statements
- Use Firewalls/Security Features on Phone
- Two Factor Authentication
- Store Password Information in a Secure Place
- Create Complex Passwords
- Review Your Credit Reports
- Shred Personal Documents
Signs That Your Identity May Have Been Stolen
You no longer get household bills in the mail or email.
- An offender could have changed the address to hide or delay when you notice the fraudulent activity.
You have been turned down for a loan, credit card, mortgage that you have applied for
- If your credit history is solid and you are turned down based on your credit check. Check to see what credit marks and accounts were on there to make sure there wasn’t any fraudulent activity.
You are billed for items that you did not purchase
- Purchases or invoices that you don’t recognize are key indicators that someone may have stolen your identity and your information has been compromised. This also goes for online statements on your bank and credit card accounts.
Your Tax Returns were rejected
- If you filed your taxes as usual and you received a notification from the International Revenue Service (IRS) as a duplicate tax return, then you have most certainly (absent other logical reasons) been a victim of identity theft.
Small (test) charges appear on your bank or credit statements
- These test charges are used to verify the account information or that the credit card is still active. These test charges don’t appear to be extremely dangerous at first, however, once the account has been confirmed, then the offenders may have full access to your accounts, credit limit or money.
You are notified by your bank or credit card provider of suspicious charges
- If you receive a call, text or email about suspicious activity on your account from one of your credit providers that you do not recognize, then it is time to consider that your Identity was stolen.
Protecting Yourself From Identity Theft After Your Identification Was Compromised
Sometimes these offenders hit the jackpot and find documentations such as birth certificates various I.D’s, credit cards or even social security cards inside victims homes or through phishing attempts, malware, phone calls and other creative ways. There is no doubt that when these criminals have your identification, your life can be tossed upside down with endless calls and paperwork attempting to keep your identity, property, and livelihood safe. The first thing you need to do is contact the local police, they may have what’s called a fraud packet with valuable information and numbers that you can use after a break in. In the meantime, here are some main precautions to take if your identification and bank/credit cards are stolen, as you await the arrival of the police.
- Credit Report Agencies: Contact the major credit reporting bureaus where you request added precautions (Freezing your credit) when anyone (hopefully just you) attempts to apply for various resources such as credit cards, bank loans, mortgages or even personal loans.
- Contact banks: Contact the banks in which you are a member of and ask them to cancel the stolen card and have them issue a new one. If any checks were taken you will want to open up an entirely new account as the offenders will now have complete access to your hard-earned money. You can go to the Annual Credit Report for a free credit report.
- Contact the Federal Trade Commission: The Federal Trade Commission helps monitor and identify the needs of Americans and identity theft is one of their top priorities.
- Contact the Social Security Administration: Let them know that your identification has been compromised and that someone may have access to your information including your social security number. The Social Security Administration may issue you a new social security number and can place your information on alert which adds another layer of added protection.
Prevention is key. The amount of stress and pain that can occur when your identity is stolen can be vast and overwhelming. It’s important to follow these precautions prior to your identity being compromised as once it is in the hands of the wrong person, there is no reversing the damages. If your identity was compromised or stolen, it is important to act immediate to prevent further problems. Keep your information as confidential as possible and do not give out your information to untrusted sources.