Between hacks at banks, credit agencies, and hospitals and old-fashioned dumpster diving, your personal information could be more at risk than your think. Learn a few simple ways to protect yourself from the costs and hassles of identity theft.
Seven ways to protect yourself against identity theft.
Identity theft is a booming business. According to a study by Javelin Strategy & Research, in the past five years, thieves have gotten their hands on more than $107 billion by stealing the identities of millions of Americans. But there are simple, proactive ways you can protect yourself. Here’s what you should do now.
Social media can be fun, but it can also be used by thieves to access your accounts.
Protect yourself online and IRL (in real life):
Be smart about passwords.
Choose strong passwords and change them every few months. Although it’s easy to use your dog’s name or favorite sports team as your password for all your accounts, that’s not wise. Choose a password that can’t be guessed if someone gets access to information like your birthday, hometown, or mother’s name. A strong password should include letters, numbers, and symbols.
Lock out prying eyes.
Use an anti-virus program that includes spyware protection and check for virus software updates weekly. Your computer should have the firewall turned on, and you should download any security updates for your operating systems as soon as they’re available. If you use Wi-Fi in a public place like a coffee shop or airport, check to make sure it’s an encrypted, secure network. Don’t use auto-login features for websites or financial apps on your smartphone or tablet. If someone gets their hands on your device, they can access your accounts. And never respond to emails asking for personal information such as your Social Security number, account numbers, or passwords.
TMI can get you in trouble.
Avoid posting too much personal information on social media. Thieves can pick up that information and use it to answer the challenge questions banks and shopping sites use to make sure it’s really you logging into an account.
Choose strong passwords that are not easily guessed for all your accounts.
Leave your Social Security card at home.
If your wallet is lost or stolen, someone could use the information to open new accounts or commit medical identity fraud. Don’t put your Social Security number on checks either.
Know who’s looking over your shoulder.
So-called shoulder surfers stand behind or near you when you’re using an ATM to see your password or entering payment information while shopping on your phone.
Don’t let the mail pile up.
If you’ll be out of town, have the post office hold your mail. Mail bills or letters that contain personal information at the post office or a U.S. Postal Service mailbox. If you get credit card offers in the mail, shred them before throwing them out. Know when you should receive bills and bank statements and, if they’re late, call your bank or credit card company. Thieves often change the mailing address on this kind of mail when they steal your identity.
Know what’s up with your credit report.
Once a year, check your free credit report from all three major national credit bureaus at www.annualcreditreport.com. Watch out, however, for sites with similar names that charge you for the report or want to sell you identity theft protect. Check for new accounts you didn’t open or any address or personal information changes that you didn’t make.
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