It’s one of life’s scarier facts: No one is 100 percent protected from the risk of identity theft. Luckily in the realm of ID theft prevention there are a number of habits you can practice that help limit your vulnerability.
These days as we share more and more information than ever through social media, and use our cell phones, credit and debit cards and laptops with greater frequency, identity theft is becoming increasingly more common.
A costly problem
In fact, according to USA TODAY, “All forms of fraud, including identity theft, cost Americans about $17 billion dollars in 2014, or an average of more than $2,000 per incident.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, just last year the Federal Trade Commission received the most identity theft complaints it’s ever received in a single year.
It’s more likely than not that you know someone who has had their identity stolen; maybe it’s even happened to you. That’s a chilling realization, because people who steal identities — those who take an individual’s personal information in order to assume that individual’s identity — can use them to apply for credit, obtain loans, counterfeit checks, make small and large purchases or even rent a housing unit.
How does this happen?
Some of the ways in which a person can steal your identity include:
- Physically stealing mail, taking items from wallets and purses or dumpster diving for personal and financial information
- Skimming credit and debit card information online or at an ATM
- Phishing online for personal information through fake web-sites or fraudulent emails
Besides potential monetary losses, having your identity stolen can be a confusing, frustrating and traumatizing event. While it’s impossible to ensure that your identity will remain safe, fortunately there are ways to limit your exposure to becoming a victim. Here are 13 (I know, it’s supposedly an unlucky number) fast and easy ways to make it very difficult for a criminal to obtain and use your personal information.
13 ID theft prevention habits
- It’s fun to share, but be mindful of what you post on social media. Privacy settings exist for a reason, so use them: Don’t let others see information that may be an answer to a login security question, such as your mother’s maiden name, you place of birth, your birth year or your pet’s name.
- Bring in mail from your mailbox every day. If you’re out of town for a week or longer, have the post office hold your mail.
- Make sure you shred any documents that have identifying information on them, such as account numbers. Watch for notices of Dane County Credit Union’s Community Shred Events.
- Install antivirus or antimalware programs on your computer. Similarly, avoid storing personal and financial information on laptops and other portable devices.
- Online shopping can make the activity fast and fun, but when you do, make sure you’re using a secure browser. Your browser is secure if there’s a lock icon on your Internet’s status bar, or the URL begins with “https.”
- Use strong passwords. This means incorporating special characters, numbers and lower and uppercase letters into them.
- Make different passwords for each regularly visited website. And, I know it is not as convenient, but avoid using website automatic login features.
- Don’t fall for phishing scams. Only click on links or attachments from senders you know.
- Never respond to requests for financial information through emails, use a phone instead. As a precautionary measure, a financial institution will never ask for account information through an email.
- Keep your Social Security Number private. Store your card in a safe place, avoid carrying it on your person and only provide it to someone when you fully understand why they’re asking for it.
- It may seem a little awkward around friends and co-workers, but never let your guard down. Keep wallets, purses, phones and other portable devices hidden when you’re at work or out in public.
- If you don’t already, regularly monitor your financial accounts. By reviewing activity on your debit and credit cards daily on your online bank account (eBanking), or by setting low threshold online bank alerts that notify you of unauthorized transactions, you can easily stay up to speed with something.
- Similarly, regularly review your credit report by requesting copy of it at least annually. DCCU offers free credit report reviews. When you’re reviewing it, we’ll work with you to ensure account balances are correct; that open accounts are ones you initiated; and that your inquiries reflect your requests for credit. If one or more of these areas seems off, dispute the inaccurate information with the credit reporting agency from which you obtained the report. If fraudulent activity has occurred or you believe you’re susceptible to fraud, consider placing a security freeze on your file.
Identity theft is a very real, and very growing, concern. While some of these tips may seem a tad bit more time or thought consuming than your regular habits, they just may end up saving you a ton of time and stress in the long run. Be smart on your computer, be smart in the real world; you’ll be much less likely to become another victim of identity theft.