Identity theft has become a major problem in America over the last decade. The U.S. Department of Justice identified the average number of U.S. identity fraud victims to be 11,571,900 annually, but the percent of American households that reported these thefts was only 7%. That means most people who have their identities stolen don’t even know about it. Here’s how you can protect yourself and your family before it happens to you.
1. The number one thing you can do to protect yourself is to check your credit report as frequently as possible. If you have the finances, you can check it multiple times throughout the year for a fee. But the law requires you access to one free report per year. Take advantage of that and comb through every inch of it. Check for discrepancies or possible mistakes.
2. Do a complete wallet sweep. Go through and take out anything that may have your social security number on it. Also, remove your passport, birth certificate and credit cards you don’t use very often. Be sure to remove PIN numbers you may be carrying around.
3. Buy a shredder and put it to good use. Shred any pre-approved credit card offers you receive. Shred any receipts from old credit cards. Shred any document you no longer need that has even just a stitch of financial or identifying information about you.
4. Take your name and phone number out of local phone directories.
5. If you shop online, be wary of using your credit or debit card to make purchases. If you’re going to continue doing this, it’s best to protect yourself using anti-spyware and anti-malware software programs to protect your sensitive financial and personal information.
6. Beware of any emails of phone calls you may receive from callers that would like to verify or update personal information. Many phishing scammers like to pose as companies like Paypal in order to get you to click on links that take you to fake websites and then collect your information. It’s best to simply decline to give information over the phone and contact the company requesting this information directly. Companies will never ask you to update your personal or financial information over the phone or through email.
7. In addition to anti-spyware and anti-malware, you also need to protect your computer from hackers and worms with the use of firewall and virus protection. Make sure the firewall is always turned on and that your are currently being protected.
8. When you go on vacation, have the post office hold your mail until you return. Also, don’t leave personal or financial information lying around when you leave. Be sure to lock up anything personal as best as possible when you’re going to be gone for a while.
9. Avoid ordering over the phone when you can. It’s best to send in a money order or check (without your address on it) when ordering over the phone. Sure, it may take longer, but your information will be safer and you won’t have to worry about your personal information being stolen.
10. Go over every bank and credit card statement with a fine tooth comb on the same day you receive them. Check for anything that looks suspicious or anything you aren’t familiar with.
11. Password-protect any sensitive data you might have on your computer. If you’re not sure how to do this, there are tons of articles online or you can take your computer to the Geek Squad at Best Buy if you’re really technologically challenged.
12. Get identity theft insurance. Purchase identity theft insurance with your homeowner or renter policies. It even comes as a stand-alone policy. Credit card companies also offer this type of insurance when you apply for a credit card and get approved. This can give you peace of mind when you use your credit.
Protecting yourself and your family from identity theft may seem like a tough job, but it doesn’t have to be if you follow these tips and make them part of your everyday life. Pretty soon, it’ll become like second nature and you can feel secure knowing you and your family are protected from hackers and ID thieves.