While identity theft now gets its own category as a crime, it contributes to the most common type of crime in the U.S.: theft. Millions of Americans (and people all over the world) fall victim to identity theft every year, and it seems there’s little we can do to stop it.
However, that type of thinking is part of the reason that identity thieves have had so much success in recent years. With online shopping and massive data breaches becoming more prevalent every day, it’s important for every consumer to understand how they are vulnerable to identity theft, and how to protect themselves.
1. Be stingy with your social security number.
The only people who ever need your social security number are government agencies, credit bureaus, lenders, employers, and banks. Do not give your social security number to anyone else, and do not carry your card with you on a daily basis. That will increase the likelihood of it being lost or stolen.
2. Keep a close eye on your credit.
Checking your credit at regular intervals is the best way to make sure your credit doesn’t get stolen. At the very least, take advantage of your free yearly credit report, but it might also help to enlist the services of a credit monitoring company as well.
3. Don’t let your mail linger in its box.
If you have a mailbox that’s easily accessible and unlocked, either replace it with one that locks, or make sure to snag your mail as soon as the mail delivery person places it in the box.
4. Pay attention to your mail.
If you’ve stopped receiving mail, it’s likely that someone has replaced your address with theirs and it now receiving your mail instead of you.
5. Lock down your Wi-Fi usage.
At home, don’t leave your Wi-Fi network open for anyone to use. Apply a password so that you know exactly who is accessing your network. If your network is already password protected, try changing it to something a little more complex than “password.” Experts say that phrases actually work best for this.
6. Be careful when joining public Wi-Fi networks.
If you must join the Wi-Fi network at the coffee shop, airport, or restaurant, make sure you don’t view any sensitive information, and that includes checking your email or the balance on your bank account.
7. Use your phone’s security features.
Many of today’s smart phones have features that allow users to protect their information. This can be especially helpful for those who use other features such as Apple Pay, where credit card information is stored on your phone. There are also features that allow you to wipe the information from your phone remotely in the event that it gets stolen.
8. Invest in a shredder.
Shredders aren’t very expensive, so they aren’t technically considered an investment, especially when you consider the alternative. You may not want to dig through trash to find out sensitive information about someone, but some criminals do this. Save yourself the hassle and shred any financial documents you throw away, even if there’s no important information on them.
9. Actually read your credit card statements.
One of the easiest ways to know if your identity has been stolen is by checking your credit card statement. Any suspicious activity should jump out at you immediately, and you should call your credit card company the second this happens.
10. Update your passwords.
If you’ve been using the same password for 10 years, and/or using the same password across accounts, it’s time to update. Old passwords are easy to crack.
11. Use caution when shopping online.
When you shop online, as many of us do, it’s a good idea to check and make sure you’re purchasing from a reputable site. Additionally, it’s smart to use your credit card instead of your debit card, since credit purchases can be reversed, but if someone is able to steal all of the money in your checking account, nothing can reverse that.
12. Be careful who you share your information with.
Don’t give your information to anyone who hasn’t told you what they will do with it. This includes those emails you keep getting from the Nigerian prince who wants to share his fortune with you. (He doesn’t.)
13. Protect your devices.
Most electronic devices allow users the option to password protect, including smartphones, tablets, laptops, and more. Use these options, and if you are prone to leaving things where they don’t belong, make sure to keep a closer eye on them.
14. Leave extra credit cards at home.
Let’s be honest: you don’t really plan to use all ten of the credit cards in your wallet at any given time, do you? It’s a good idea to take out the credit card(s) you need, and leave the rest at home with your social security card.
15. Write “please see ID” on the back.
While not every retailer or server will do this, if you write “please see ID” on the backs of your credit cards, it has the potential to deter someone from stealing and using your card down the line.
If you’re concerned about your credit, you can check your three credit reports for free once a year. To track your credit more regularly, Credit.com’s free Credit Report Card is an easy-to-understand breakdown of your credit report information that uses letter grades—plus you get two free credit scores updated every 14 days.
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