You probably know someone who’s been through the terrible, frightening experience of identity theft. There are plenty of ways that identity thieves get a hold of people’s personal information, and they’re extremely creative and adept at doing so. Lots of people don’t even realize that their identity has been stolen until they receive a bad credit report or notice charges that they didn’t make.
Identity thieves can get your personal information from Dumpster diving, scamming you online with emails or pop-ups (called phishing), changing the address that your credit card bills are sent to, impersonating authorized personnel to get your information from financial institutions, or physically stealing it by snagging your purse or wallet. They take your information for a variety of reasons, including opening bank accounts, getting a loan, stealing your money from an ATM, or getting documents like driver’s licenses.
Identity theft can happen to anyone at any time, so it’s important to be prepared and do what you can to prevent your information from being compromised. We’ve got some tips that will help you protect your identity—and spare you the headache that comes along with sorting out a stolen identity.
Tip #1. Know the signs.
There are a few red flags when it comes to identity theft. You’ll want to look out for…
- Accounts you didn’t sign up for
- Mystery debts on your accounts
- Incorrect information on your credit report
- Not receiving your bills in the mail
- Credit cards you didn’t apply for appearing in the mail
- Having bad credit or being denied a loan for unknown reasons
- Debt collectors harassing you about things you didn’t buy
Tip #2. Keep your Social Security Number safe.
Your Social Security number (SSN) is extremely important, and because it can be used to steal your identity you have to make sure that it’s safe. To protect your SSN:
- Don’t keep it in your wallet or purse.
- Only provide it if absolutely necessary
- Request a different identifier be used if an institution uses SSNs as ID numbers.
- Be mindful of giving out your SSN when taking care of business like getting a loan, utilities, getting an apartment, etc.
- Ask the party requesting it why they want it, what it will be used for, what they will do to protect it, and if it’s really necessary for you to give it.
- Make sure that your SSN or driver’s license number isn’t on your checks.
Tip #3. Shred any sensitive documents.
Get yourself a paper shredder and go to town. Anything that has your personal information on it should go through the shredder – even receipts. You can’t be too careful.
Tip # 4. Keep an eye on your credit report.
There are three credit bureaus who can give you your credit report if you ask for it. You can get one copy from each for free every year, so take advantage of it. Watch your report carefully. Keep in mind, too, that your credit score has an effect on your home insurance.
Tip #5. Get the mail every day.
Make sure that you get your mail frequently—you don’t want to leave your mail sitting in the mailbox. If you’re going out of town, ask the post office to hold your mail or get a trusted neighbor to pick it up every day.
If you’re sending a bill or letter that has your information, use a locked Post Office drop box instead of your mailbox. Better safe than sorry.
Tip #6. Be smart on the computer.
There are a lot of ways that thieves can get your information online. A few ways identity thieves might get you online include:
- Phishing: This is when a scammer sends a popup or email that tricks people into giving out their personal information. Be wary of any suspicious emails asking for your personal info.
- Cookies: Cookies are plunked onto your computer when you go to websites, and they can be used to watch your web activity. You can tell your browser to make you approve cookies individually or block them all together.
- Spam: Get a reputable anti-spam product to keep unwanted spam off your computer.
- Spyware: When you download something like photos or music, you could unintentionally be downloading software that tracks your Internet use.
To be a smart computer user…
- Use anti-virus software.
- Only send your information online if the site is secure (you’ll see an https:// in the URL).
- Get creative with your password.
- Don’t use easily guessable information, like your birthday, mother’s maiden name, a list of numbers like 123456, or an obvious word (yes, that includes password.)
- Do use a mix of numbers, letters, and special characters like &!#@.
- Make sure that your credit card, bank account, and phone account are password protected.
- If you have to get rid of an old computer, make sure that it’s been completely wiped of your information.
- Don’t post vacation plans on social media. Aside from identity theft, this opens you up to the risk of burglary.
Tip #7. Verify, verify, verify.
Before giving out any personal information over the phone, by email, or on the Internet, check to make sure that you’re in contact with a legitimate service. If there’s a link in an email, type it into your browser yourself instead of clicking on it or pasting it. You can also call the customer service line on your account statements to double-check that you’re not giving your information to a thief.
Tip #8: Keep an eye on your personal belongings.
We usually think of identity theft as a cybercrime, but it can also come in the form of a physical theft—if someone takes your wallet or snatches your purse, for instance. To make life easier if your wallet or purse were to get stolen, make a list of the items that you carry in it and keep it in a safe place. That way you know exactly what to report to the police. You should also…
- Protect your purse and wallet.
- Keep any important paperwork safe.
- Don’t carry your SSN with you.
- Only bring the debit or credit cards that you absolutely need with you.
- Don’t blab about your personal info to anyone.
Identity theft is a serious problem—if you have your identity stolen, it can take a lot of time to sort out the problem, not to mention getting your stolen money back. If you really want to protect yourself from identity theft, you might consider getting an identity theft insurance plan.
On a different note, if you’d like to get a free quote on your home insurance or renters insurance, just fill out our quote form or give us a call today! We’d be happy to get you a quote and talk about your insurance.