Getting your identity stolen can be a scary thought. What’s even more unsettling? A record 15.4 million Americans were affected in 2016.1
More recent events, like the data breach at Equifax, have brought national attention to this issue.
If you’re looking to build up your defenses, here are 10 ways to protect your credit and identity:
1. Keep important documents in a secure place
Although some modern-day thieves prefer digital files, the hard copies of your personal documents can be just as revealing. By keeping these papers locked away in a safe or desk drawer, you can help keep them protected, organized and ready to access when needed. Some documents to keep locked up include: birth certificate, Social Security card, tax information and bank records.
2. Pay close attention to monthly statements
It’s easy to just scan over your banking and credit statements. If your balance looks close to what you think it is, there could be no reason to worry. However, not all forms of identity theft involve large amounts of money. Some cyberthieves steal small amounts of money over time to remain undetected, so make a habit of reviewing each transaction listed in your monthly statements.
3. Shred documents before throwing away
Have you heard of “dumpster diving?” While you may think of people salvaging food from the trash, it’s also a way for criminals to steal your personal information. One way to protect yourself is to slice all your paperwork into fine strips and particles with a paper shredder. Consider shredding documents that you no longer need, such as: bank and credit card statements, utility bills, pay stubs and travel itineraries.
4. Look out for credit card skimmers
“Skimming” is when criminals use ATMs or gas pumps to steal your bank or credit information. By placing a magnetic strip inside the card slot, the thief will receive your account information after you swipe your debit or credit card. To avoid getting skimmed, check for tampering or anything unusual in the card slot before you swipe. If something looks off, avoid using the machine and tell the business owner.
5. Be cautious of phone scams
Phone scams have become more deceitful in recent years. One of the most notable phone scams, which bilked unsuspecting victims out of over $300 million, was the IRS phone scam out of India. Criminals can also pose as a bank, credit card issuer or police organization to scare people into giving up information. If you start to feel uncomfortable during a call, be confident and defensive with your personal information.
6. Watch out for suspicious emails
Phishing, a scam where criminals send phony emails to steal personal and financial information, has been around for decades. This scam is called phishing because the thieves are “fishing for information.” Much like casting a lure to catch a fish, the criminals send out thousands of emails in hopes of people opening them up or downloading an infected file. Here are some ways to spot a potential phishing email: unrecognized names or email addresses, poor spelling and grammar, requests to send money or requests for personal information.
7. Update your apps and anti-virus software
Anyone who uses the internet should know about the importance of anti-virus, anti-spyware, and anti-phishing software. It’s also equally important to keep this protection regularly updated. Some security programs and applications offer automatic updating, but you may want to set a monthly reminder to make sure latest versions are running.
8. Don’t use public Wi-Fi for banking or shopping
Although public Wi-Fi can be convenient, these connections are typically unsecured. In other words, they’re wide open for cybercriminals to steal information. If you need to do some online banking or shopping, wait until you get home and connect to your secure network. For added security, make sure the websites you use are encrypted as well.
9. Keep personal information off social media
Some people might do this and not think about the consequences. However, by adding personal details to your profile and updates, you’re giving away key pieces of identity. Avoid publishing the following details on any of your accounts: date of birth, address, phone number, Social Security number or mother’s maiden name.
10. Respond to potential threats immediately
If you suspect you've been a victim of credit or identity theft, act fast. Contact your bank and creditors immediately to try to get ahead of any fraudulent activity. It may be shocking to realize it happened to you, but how fast you respond could make a difference. If you don’t know how to contact your banks and creditors to report fraud, it may be helpful to create a list of phone numbers and emails to access in time of need.
Keep your eyes open
Bad things happen to good people. Credit and identity theft are proof of that. However, if you stay on your guard and learn how to protect yourself, you should be able to stay one step ahead.
For more information, or to report identity theft and get a recovery plan, visit identitytheft.gov.
- Weisbaum, Herb. “Identity Fraud Hits Record Number of Americans in 2016.” CNBC.com. https://www.nbcnews.com/business/consumer/identity-fraud-hits-record-number-americans-2016-n715756 (accessed October 9, 2017).