You guard your house by having an alarm system. You guard your car by locking it. You guard your money by putting it in a wallet inside your pocket. Well what are you doing to protect your identity? If the answer is nothing, you may already be a victim of identity theft and not even know it.
While you may not make yourself completely immune from identity theft, you could however use some common sense tactics to decrease your chances of having your identity stolen. Here are five ways you can protect yourself from being the next victim of identity theft.
Guard Your Social Security Number
Your identity cannot be stolen unless the thieves get your social security number. So be careful where you write the number and who you give this number to. Often times thieves will send you a spam email to try and trick you into giving up your personal information. Before you supply your SSN be sure you know who you are furnishing it to and why. Typically, you only need to provide it one time when you sign up for an account at a bank or for a cell phone or when you are asking for a loan.
Keep Your Passwords Secret
When your password is stolen it opens the door for identity thieves to wreak havoc on your financial life. Of course having your bank password stolen would be bad, but the worst password to lose is your email password. The reason is that if your email account is compromised, a hacker can scan your emails for your personal information. They can look to see what accounts you have such as credit cards or a checking account. They will then attempt to log in to these accounts using the same password you used for your email. They can also use the “lost password” form to reset your password and gain access to all of your most important accounts.
Passwords are typically stolen in one of two ways. You get tricked into providing your password in a phishing scam or your password is cracked. To prevent a computer program from guessing your password you need to come up with a difficult to guess password. The best passwords utilize special symbols like the dollar sign, exclamation point and asterisk symbols. They also have capital and lowercase letters and numbers.
Check Your Credit Report
The first sign that your identity has been stolen is usually when you apply for credit and get shut down. You wonder why you didn’t qualify for a loan when you’re always prompt with your payments. So you check your credit report and there it is in black and white – someone has been opening accounts in your name and not paying them.
So check your report often and see if you spot any unusual activity. You can check your report for free once per year at annualcreditreport.com. If you feel like once per year is not enough, you can pay for credit monitoring, which alerts you every time an account is opened with your SSN. While checking your credit report often will not prevent you from getting your identity stolen, it will however minimize the damage done if you catch it fast enough.
Make Your Payments Online
You may have a fear of switching to paperless billing and setting up automatic payments online. And why wouldn’t you? The news is constantly talking about cyber-thieves stealing identities. But most of this is blown out of proportion. You are far more likely to become a victim by sending your payments by snail mail.
By making your payments online you won’t receive a paper bill which could be lost or stolen. You also will make your payments automatically so you will never be late, you won’t forget and your check won’t ever get lost in the mail.
Lock Your Smartphone
Many people do not put a passcode lock on their smartphones. But what would happen if you were to lose your phone? The thief will have unrestricted access to your Facebook account so they’ll have your full name. They will then get access to your email account as well which will open yourself up to a whole host of problems.
Even something as simple as a 4 digit pin will prevent unauthorized use in case your phone goes missing. You may also want to invest in a remote swipe app which will delete the contents of your phone if you were to lose it.