Protect Yourself From Identity Theft

June 19, 2018

If you’re at all worried about identity theft, you certainly should be. In 2017, there were 16.7 million cases of identity theft, an 8% increase over 2016.

There’s no way to completely protect yourself from identity theft. But there are a series of simple strategies you can use to minimize the likelihood of becoming a victim.

Create Complicated Passwords – And Don’t Give them Out!

Most people create passwords that are easy for them to remember. The problem with that strategy is that they’re often not hard for others to figure out.

One of the unfortunate realities of identity theft is that it’s often an “inside job”. That means it’s done by someone close to you. That can be a coworker, a friend, or even a family member. For that reason, you should avoid providing your password for any important accounts to anyone in your personal circle.

As far as the passwords themselves, avoid easy-to-determine passcodes, like those involving your name, the names of family members or pets, dates of birth, your phone number, or your address. Instead, use passwords that make no sense whatsoever. Use a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols. Also use both uppercase and lowercase letters.

The less sense a password makes, the harder it is to figure out.

Make Sure You Have a Good Antivirus Program on ALL Devices

This one comes under the category of “never overlook the obvious”, but it bears repeating. You should have a good antivirus program on all devices. That includes desktop and laptop computers, and mobile devices.

No matter how careful you are, it’s always possible that you click on the wrong website, or open a suspicious email. You’ll need some capability to back yourself up should that happen.

And speaking of the Internet, never access a website from a URL supplied by email. Even if the email looks convincing, it could just be an identical copy, that routes you to a site you don’t want to be on. Once there, personal information can be harvested from your computer. This is what is known as a phishing scheme, and you must do your best to avoid it.

Use a Third Party Payment Service When Purchasing Anything Online

We’ve all gotten very comfortable using credit and debit cards to make routine purchases on the Internet. Unfortunately, that’s not a safe way to transact business. Once you use your card for a purchase, information has been supplied to the merchant. Even if the merchant is reputable, it’s possible there’s an employee within the organization who’s not.

It’s better to use a third-party payment service, like Google Wallet or PayPal. Another option is to use a prepaid debit card. The advantage of these methods is that none of your personal account information is transmitted during the purchase. Though your information is on file with the third-party service, it’s not released to the merchant.

Important Papers Should Always be Stored in a Secure Place

Even in a world that has become increasingly virtual, most of us have a significant amount of documentation containing personal information. All a thief needs is your name and some type of identifying number, like your Social Security number or an account number, and he or she can access your financial information.

It’s important to make sure this information never falls into the wrong hands. For that reason, it should always be stored under lock and key – and only you should know where the key is.

The documents stored are any papers that include access information to important financial accounts. You should always keep this kind of paperwork to an absolute minimum. But what’s left must be securely stored.

Make Sure to Use a Shredder for Paper Documents

Did you know that one of the biggest sources of identity theft is your garbage? A thief may rifle through your garbage when it’s placed out on the street for pickup. They’ll be looking for important documents that have been casually disposed of. Once again, any document that has your name and some sort of identification number can be used for theft.

Any important papers you intend to dispose of should instead be shredded. You can pick up a cheap shredder at an office supply store or Walmart for $20 or $30, and it will be one of the best investments you can make.

While you’re at it, also plan to shred junk mail solicitations that contain any sensitive information. You don’t need a thief applying for a credit card in your name as a result of a preapproval that you threw in the trash.

Use Dual Authentication Whenever Possible

This is also referred to as two-factor authentication because it requires a two-step process to access an account. It greatly reduces the likelihood of a thief accessing your information.

Normally, you sign into an account with a username and password. Dual authentication adds a second step. It may be adding a security question to the process. This is especially important if you tend to use the same credentials across multiple accounts.

Fortunately, financial institutions are increasingly making use of dual authentication. This is when you will be required to receive a code via text or email in order to access your account.

It doesn’t eliminate the possibility of identity theft, but it does greatly reduce it.

Be Really Careful Using Your Mobile Device

Smartphone use has become as human as breathing and walking – and that’s part of the problem. What we do often, we do without much thought. But since you almost certainly transact important business on your mobile device, you have to be very careful how you use it.

Anytime you’re accessing a financial account on your smartphone, make sure you’re doing it in a way that no one else can see. Just as important, never say your access codes on the phone, particularly if you’re in public. Though we normally assume others are not listening to our conversations, thieves have a very different approach. Some of them have become very skilled at eavesdropping on conversations, and recording important information.

If you’re in a public place, make sensitive phone calls from your car or some other secure location. You never know who’s listening, but you should always assume someone is.

It’s not possible to eliminate the threat of identity theft. But each step you take to make it more difficult for the thieves brings the possibility closer to zero.

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