Ever since Equifax’s massive data breach last year, identity theft has been at the forefront of everyone’s mind. Whether you do all of your shopping online or use cash instead of a credit card, there’s good reason why you should be concerned. While Equifax experienced possibly the biggest data breach in U.S. history, the fact of the matter is, breaches happen much more often than we think. That’s why we’ve rounded up some of the most effective tips to help you prevent identity theft.
Why Identity Theft Has Become A More Serious Problem
You’ve always had to be careful with your personal information. But in this digital age, where even the most secure systems can be breached, it’s more necessary than ever. Aside from Equifax, other companies that have recently experienced devastating breaches include Uber, Forever 21, Whole Foods, Verizon, and FedEx. These have resulted in some of the most shocking identity theft statistics to date. In most cases, these companies did not reveal the breaches to the public until months after they occurred.
Tips To Prevent Identity Theft From Happening To You
1. Protect Your PIN Number (Or Just Use A Credit Card)
Most debit and credit card readers automatically prompt you to protect your PIN number after you swipe your card. They’re also designed to prevent onlookers from reading over your shoulder. However, they’re not perfect. There’s still a chance your information could be stolen, even if you cover the screen and touchpad with your hand while you type. Your PIN number may be secure, but should anyone get a hold of it, they can clean out your checking account in minutes.
Credit cards have their own issues, but they offer superior purchase protection and don’t automatically draw money out of your checking account. So if someone else steals your number, your credit card company can quickly take care of it, without you having to worry.
2. Use Caution When Connecting To Public WiFi Networks
One increasingly common way thieves are stealing other people’s information is through public and fraudulent WiFi networks. When you connect to a public network, like at a coffee shop or airport, there’s a chance that other people can view any information you send over it. If you need to access your online banking account, make a purchase, or send an email with sensitive information, it’s best to wait until you get home and have a private, secure WiFi connection.
Furthermore, hackers can also create fake WiFi networks that look almost like perfect imitations of trustworthy or public ones. By connecting to them, you fall right into their trap and risk having your information stolen. So think twice next time you see “Public WiFi” appear in your list of nearby networks.
3. Buy A Paper Shredder
Shredding your documents is one of the simplest tips to prevent identity theft. Any time you receive mail or pay stubs with sensitive information that you want to discard, put them right in the shredder. It’ll become impossible for anyone to decipher your documents once they’ve been cut into hundreds of small pieces. If there are important papers you want to hold onto, consider keeping them in a safe or a lockbox. Or alternatively, you can scan them into your computer to create digital copies before shredding them.
4. Check Your Credit Score And Bank Statements Regularly
You’re only entitled to three free credit reports a year, but you can monitor your credit score through other sites. You’ll have all the information you need about your credit without having to purchase or look through a full credit report. If your score seems wrong or inaccurate, you can do further research if needed. Bank statements, on the other hand, are free to access, so look through them on a frequent basis. You should make sure you can remember what each charge is for. Suspicious charges should be reported to your credit card company or bank as soon as possible. You can also do identity theft monitoring by running a background check and criminal record search on yourself. If someone else has committed crimes under your name, you’ll know.
5. Guard Your Social Security Number
It feels like everyone asks for your social security number now, from your car insurance company to your family doctor. The problem with this is that these businesses don’t always have the proper security needed to protect SSNs. Generally, one of the best tips to prevent identity theft is to only give out your SSN when it’s mandatory. A few common examples are credit applications, Department of Motor Vehicle transactions, and some health insurances.
6. Restore Old Devices And Electronics To Factory Settings
Ready to upgrade to the newest smartphone on the market? First, you need to figure out what to do with all the data on your old one. Whether you plan on keeping or selling your outdated devices, you can protect your information by wiping it clean. The easiest, most efficient way to erase your data off a phone, computer, or tablet is to do a factory reset. This will restore your device to how it was when you bought it. So if someone else ends up using it, they won’t be able to access your photos, contacts, or emails.
7. Enable 2-Factor Authentication
Add an extra layer of security to all of your online accounts with 2-factor authentication. It involves not only logging in with your username or password, but confirming your account activity on another platform. Typically, this is done over email or SMS text messaging. The advantage of 2-factor authentication is that it confirms it’s really you accessing your account, not someone else. In addition, it’s something you can use for online banking, social media accounts, and more.
8. Randomize Your Passwords
Are you guilty of using the same password for everything? Today’s the day you should change that. It’s good to have a password that you can remember, but it’s even better to use plenty of different ones that are complex and impossible to guess. Plus, you’ll still be able to keep track of them, no matter how often you update them, if you use a secure password manager. Just make sure you download one from a legitimate source.
9. Watch Out For Scams
Scammers are everywhere. To prevent identity theft, most of us have discovered tips to ignore the obvious Nigerian letter scams or unwanted calls, but there are still some deceiving ones out there. Online dating sites, such as OKCupid and Tinder, have become another platform for scammers to trick people into sending them money. These people take on fake identities (a phenomenon also known as “catphishing”) and prey on people who are looking for love. After earning their trust, these catfishers will ask them for their money, personal information, or anything else they can get out of them. From there, they can steal their victims’ identities.
What To Do If You Suspect Identity Theft
If you think there’s any possibility that your identity was stolen, or if there’s a fraudulent charge on one of your cards, you need to act quickly. If you’re not sure who to call for identity theft, or what else you should do, just follow these simple steps.
- Alert your credit card company or bank of the fraudulent charge.
- Set up a fraud alert.
- Close any affected accounts.
- Request new cards.
- Change your passwords.
- Review your credit report.
- Contact your local police.
- Follow these tips to prevent identity theft in the future.
Identity theft is an unfortunate crime that can take months, or even years, for victims to recover from. While some fraudulent charges can be reversed almost instantly, it’s usually a long and expensive process to deal with a stolen identity. Use your discretion when giving out your personal information and trust your gut.
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