What Is Identity Theft?
Quite simply it is when someone steals your identity. Someone gets access to personal information like your social security number and then they use it to open account in your name or gain access to your current accounts.
In any case, the result can be disastrous to your credit profile and financial situation. Depending on the extent of the identity theft, it can take years to get your credit and finances back on track. Thus, it is very much worthwhile to learn how to prevent it.
Preventing Identity Theft
Luckily, preventing identity theft is not as hard as you might think. Here are some simple ways to protect yourself.
1) Use Cash When Possible
If you do not put your credit cards out there, you limit the chances that the numbers will get stolen. Although we are becoming a cashless society, cash is still a valid defense to identity theft.
This is especially true at certain venues. Restaurants, for example, require you to give a credit card to a waiter who then takes it out of sight. This is a prime chance for a criminal to skim your information, record it and sell it. Other examples of risky situations include gas stations and any mobile vendor. It might be more trouble to use cash in these situations, but it could protect you.
2) Buy A Shredder
How many of your important documents end up in the trash can where anyone can take them. This is extremely dangerous because any document that has any personal information is valuable to a thief. If it simply has your name and address on it, shred it just in case.
As far as shredders go, spend a few more dollars on a good cross cut shredder. This will make the shredding more complete so that information can not be pieced together. More expensive shredders will generally allow you to shred more sheets at a time, making them less trouble to use. If something is easy to do, you are more likely to do it.
For an investment of well under 100 dollars, a shredder is cheap identity protection.
3) Use Unique & Secure Passwords
Online security is crucial if you want to prevent identity theft. All it takes is for one hacker to access the data from a website or your computer and your information is out there.
To reduce the chances of this happening, use unique passwords that nobody can guess. The easiest way to do that is to use the auto generate password from your computer and to use a unique one for each website you visit. This makes your password hard to guess and protects you in case of a data breach. If hackers get your password from one website, they do not have all of your website passwords because they will all be unique.
4) Check For Skimmers
This is one of those situations where you should really be paying cash, but if you must use a credit card at the gas pump, be sure to check for skimmers.
Skimmers are small electrical devices that can be attached to the credit card slots on pumps. When you swipe your card, they can capture your credit card data and these little devices are becoming harder than ever to detect. There are some tel tell signs when they are present.
For starters, check the seal on the gas pump door. It will have a seal that should be intact. If it is cut or not present, avoid that pump. Additionally, choose gas pumps closer to the gas station clerk. Thieves are less likely to try to install a device on a pump in plain view, they usually choose the furthest pump.
5) Limit What You Carry
How many credit cards do you currently have in your wallet? If your answer was more than one, it is too many.
To protect yourself, carry the bare minimum. For most people, this will be a government identification card, a debit card and one credit card. If your wallet is lost or stolen, the potential damage is far less. Additionally, it will be much simpler to cancel your lost cards and order replacements if something bad were to happen.
6) Shop Trusted Websites
Online shopping is here to stay, but not every website is created equally. Some websites take your security much more seriously than others.
Your best option when choosing online website to shop from is to pick the better known websites. Websites like Amazon and Walmart have far more resources to protect against hacking and abuse. Whichever website that you use, be sure to pick a unique password and username that is not being used elsewhere online. Even big sites can get hacked.
7) Don’t Store Information Online
Like we just said, even trusted websites can be hacked, which is why you should try to store as little information on them as you can. If you don’t plan on every visiting a website again, don’t eve bother to create an account. Checking out as a guest can help to keep your privacy safe.
If you do want to open an account, at least try to avoid saving your credit card information. Saving credit card information is only valuable to the online store owner who wants you to check out with a single click. Not storing your information online can help keep your information safe and may help you avoid impulse buys.
8) Monitor Your Credit File
Finally, you should always be monitoring your credit. A good credit monitoring service might not stop your information from getting stolen, but it can help you stop the bleeding. As soon as you get an alert, you can quickly take steps to protect your credit.
The great thing about a credit monitoring service is that you do not have to spend a hundred dollars a year on it. If you have a credit card, you likely have a free credit monitoring service attached to it.