What Is Identity Theft?
Identity theft occurs when a person commits a financial crime against you by illegally obtaining your financial information using fraud or some form of deception.
Once a thief has your identity, they can open a financial account in your name, withdraw money from one of your existing accounts or even sell your information.
Identity theft is easier and easier these days because of the internet. Our information is all over it and it is being recorded and monitored. All that it takes is for a thief to crack a database and your information is out there for anyone to see.
Once they have a social security number or credit card number, they can sell it for 5 to 10 dollars a pop. Not much but they are dealing with multiple numbers. A thief can get 3000 dollars or more for even a small breach of a few hundred numbers. It is very lucrative for criminals.
Protecting Yourself From Identity Theft
Lucky for you, it is easy to protect yourself from identity theft. You can not completely eliminate the risk, but you can substantially lower it. Here are some steps that you should take right now to secure your data and lower your odds of becoming a victim.
1) Be A Password Pro
Most people do not utilize passwords as well as they could.
First and foremost, make sure that all of your devices are using passwords to the highest security level possible. Make sure that your phone is locked, your computer is locked and any other device that might even get the slightest of personal information is locked.
In addition, you need to use more than one password on websites and devices. If you do not, if one password is compromised they are all compromised. Make each password unique and completely random. No kids birthdays or city that you grew up in. Something like “8&hoGiuP8#$tfhhtFFg” is ideal. Your password should be impossible to guess.
2) Be Wary Of Email Links
Even if you think you know who sent you an email, be very careful about clicking on a link.
Phishing is a very common tactic used today by thieves. They send you an email from what looks like a legitimate source with a link in it that they want you to hit. The link will often go to a website where they can infect your device with a virus or to a fraudulent website where they hope to steal your login details.
In general, it is best to never follow a link from an email. Instead, if your bank contacts you for example, find their website yourself instead of following a link.
3) Stay Up To Date On Your Report
You should be constantly checking your credit report looking for new activity. Sign up for a free service such as Credit Karma or Credit Sesame that gives you reports when there is a change. If you are a victim, the sooner that you spot the crime, the less damage it will do.
You should also be monitoring your credit score. Not only is your credit score a huge part of your finances, a change could indicate a problem. If your score goes up or down, it could mean activity with your social security number. That warrants an investigation and it could help you detect fraud.
4) Destroy Your Documents
If even your name is on a document, you should probably destroy it before throwing it into the trash. It is just not worth the risk, so make use of your shredder.
A good cross cut shredder can be had for well under 100 dollars and it could save you much more than that in time and money by preventing identity theft.
When looking through your documents, if there is any doubt, go ahead and shred it.
5) Protect Your Mail
Be cautious about your incoming and your outgoing mail.
For the incoming, try to check your mail just as soon as it arrives. Even better, get a locking mail box to prevent thieves from taking your mail. Another option, get a PO Box for the ultimate in security. You lose something in convenience but the benefit to security is huge.
As for the outgoing, deliver your mail directly to the post office. Placing it in your mail box with the flag up is asking for trouble.
6) Be Careful With Your Credit Card
It just takes a second for a thief to skim a credit card. Be careful when and where you use it.
If at a restaurant, never pay with a credit card if a server has to take it out of sight to use it. They could skim it in seconds and you would never know it. This might mean carrying around cash but it is a small price to pay for security.
Likewise, try not to pay at the pump when pumping gas. Credit card skimmers are easily installed at the pump and can remotely transmit your card information. It is best to pay inside for your gas. If you must pay at a pump, choose one closer to the attendant. Pumps in easy view are harder to install skimmers on.
7) Never Assume Someone Is Who They Say
If you are contacted by phone or email, never assume that the person on the other side is who they say they are. In fact, you should assume that they are not.
For example, if your bank calls you, instead of discussing financial matters with them, tell them that you will call them back. Do not let them give you a number, look it up yourself so that you can be sure that it is valid.
Email is even more precarious. Do not assume that a link, even if it looks legitimate is valid. Never click on a link, instead, look up the web address yourself.
8) Guard Your Devices
You should protect any device that you use to enter personal information. Make sure that every device has a password and that the device locks automatically when not in use.
If you sell a cellular phone, be sure to wipe it to the factory settings before you let it go. Computers should likewise be set back to factory settings if being sold. If disposing of a computer, drill a hole through the hard drive as an extra form of protection.
9) Freeze Your Credit
For the ultimate in protection, you can put a freeze on your account by contacting the three major credit bureaus Trans Union, Equifax and Experian.
This is admittedly inconvenient and there is another option. You can lock your account as well, which provides lesser protection. The easiest way to do that is to download the app from each bureau.