Foiling Identity Theft
Foiling identity theft
Hey wait a minute; I didn't spend $500 on assorted chocolates. I didn't take out a loan for a Segway either! And I definitely didn't open seven new credit cards and take a vacation to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I've been cutting back from impulse buying, so someone must have stolen my identity, but how?!
Identity theft has been around for a while and continues to cost its victims BILLIONS of dollars globally each year, not to mention the time and hassle involved in recovering a stolen identity. In fact, identity theft hit an all-time high in 2016 with an estimated 15.4 million consumers falling victim to some sort of ID theft. Luckily for those of us who don't like ruining other people's lives, there are a number of things you can do to deter identity thieves.
Unfortunately, most people don't go beyond choosing a decent password to protect themselves, and some people (like President Skroob and King Roland from Spaceballs) don't even bother doing that!
Below are the top five information jackpots for identity thieves, as well as helpful tips on what you can do right now to protect yourself.
1. Your Trash Can
Even if you're really careful about the information you put online, your trash bags and recycling bin can still be an easy target for identity thieves. Dumpster diving may sound old school, but it's still an easy way for identity thieves to get access to your personal information.
What can you do:
- Get a shredder (a basic model will run you $20 to $30 at a big-bos store) and use it!
- Get into the habit of shredding things before throwing them out, especially things like bank statements, expired credit cards, utility bills, cellphone bills, paycheck stubs, old boarding passes and travel itineraries, and ATM receipts.
- Don't forget to check your envelopes! Anything with your name and address on it needs to be shredded, too.
2. Your Phone
Odds are that you're carrying a lot more in your phone than just your contact list. With smartphone theft on the rise, it's important to protect yourself.
What can you do:
- Have a password-protected lock on your home screen. This is a standard feature on all smartphones for a reason, so take advantage of it! Bonus points if your smartphone also has location tracking (also known as the "find my phone" feature).
- Public Wi-Fi networks are not secure, so avoid checking your bank accounts or doing your online-shopping from the local coffee shop or during your layover at the airport.
- Do not store sensitive information on your phone - storing passwords or login information in a note-taking app is bad news.
3. The PIN Pad
It seems like every few months a new point-of-purchase scheme emerges - skimming devices, keystroke loggers, ATM hacking... the list goes on and on!
What can you do:
- When making a purchase, keep your debit or credit card in sight at all times (if you don't have one, think about applying for ours!).
- Use your hand to block the buttons when entering your PIN number, even if there's no one immediately behind you - a camera can always be watching!
- Choose a good PIN. Avoid PINs derived from your personal information, like your telephone number, address or birthday. Avoid an easy-to-guess PIN, like the dreaded "1234."
- Change up your PIN, especially if you use the same combination for your debit card and for unlocking your cellphone.
4. Your Mailbox
Like the trash-picker approach mentioned above, mail-tampering is a low-tech but relatively easy way for identity thieves to compromise your personal information.
What can you do:
- Familiarize yourself with your billing cycles. A late credit card statement or a bill that never shows up could be a sign of mail tampering.
- Identity thieves will sometimes request a change of address to illegally reroute your mail to a different location. If you suddenly stop receiving mail, check with the post office to make sure this isn't the case.
- Use a mailbox with a locking system to deter thieves.
5. Your Computer
You would think that this one would be common knowledge by now, nut every so often a virus or scam comes along that trip us up.
What can you do:
- Keep your firewall, anti-virus and operating system software up-to-date. No matter how new and fast your laptop is, it still needs protection.
- Enable spam filters on your email accounts.
- Look out for sketchy links and emails. Ignore any suspicious password reset requests, unexpected tracking numbers or anything that asks for your personal information via email.
- Don't overshare on social media. Do your Facebook friends really need to know what year you were born? Can people tell when no one is home based on your Instagram feed? Keep your accounts private and make sure you're not accidentally broadcasting sensitive information.
Ok, so now we know how identity thieves do their dirty work and the best steps to deter them. If you think you may be a victim of identity theft, some of the warning signs include:
- Unexpected withdrawals or charges listed in your bank or credit card statements
- Errors in your credit report
- Missing mail
- Receiving unexpected bills and credit cards by mail
- Problems accessing your email or online banking accounts
- Calls from debt collectors regarding accounts that are not yours
- Issues with medical insurance or inaccuracies in your health records
- Receiving a notice from the government that multiple tax returns were filed in your name
If you have experienced any of these signs, you might be a victim of identity theft. Luckily, there are steps you can take to recover, such as these 12 points put together by BankRate.com.
- Notify affected creditors or banks
- Put a fraud alert on your credit report
- Check your credit reports
- Consider putting a credit freeze on your reports
- Contact the FTC
- Go to the police
- Send creditors a copy of your ID theft report
- Contact credit reporting agencies
- Change all account passwords
- Contact the Social Security fraud hot line
- Get a new driver's license
- Contact your telephone and utility companies
I know, this is a lot of information to keep track of and you might be feeling overwhelmed, but it is worth getting into the habit of practicing these steps to ensure no one steals your identity. Trust me, you would rather spend a little money on a shredder and take the time to dispose of sensitive information than realizing someone has taken a vacation to Kokomo on your dime. Those Muppets really emptied my bank account on their trip...
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