With the advancements of technology, there’s really no way to guarantee that you’ll never be a victim of ID theft. You can, however, take steps to reduce your risk.
Why would somebody want to steal your identity? It doesn’t matter who you are, you identity and your personal information are valuable to criminals.
With your information they can open bank accounts, get credit cards and loans, apply for different benefits and documents such as passports and driving licences in your name.
You may already be a victim of identity theft if any of the following are true:
- Items appear on your bank or credit card statements that you do not recognize
- You have applied for a benefit but have been told that you are already claiming
- You receive bills, invoices or receipts addressed to you for goods or services that you haven’t asked for
- You have been refused a financial service despite having a good credit history
- A phone contract has been set up in your name without your knowledge
- You have received letters from solicitors or debt collectors for debts that aren’t yours
How to Protect Your Identity From Being Stolen
According to the Identity Resource Center there have been 1.6 billion records exposed since 2005. Let’s take a look at some steps that you can take to make sure that you don’t become one of this years statistics.
Be careful With Your Information
The first step is to start being more careful about who you are giving your personal information to. Many criminals out there will pretend to be somebody such as a debt collector, bank, charity or a local business.
By doing so they can usually get people to hand over their social security number, street address, date of birth, or any other information that they can use.
There may contact you via different means such as on the phone, via email, regular mail, or even come right to your door.
Watch the Links
One of the easiest methods for anyone to be contacted nowadays is via email. It is also easy for criminals to easily create an email that looks like it has come from a reliable source.
Just because the email claims to be from a certain company, doesn’t mean that it actually is. Check the email address from where it has been sent from.
Never click on any links in emails before you have first checked that it is safe to do so. You can see where you will be directed after clicking a link by rolling your mouse cursor over the link.
Shred Your Documents
A criminal doesn’t want to take the time putting your documents back together like a jigsaw when they can just move onto an easier target.
Use a paper shredder to shred any letters and documents before throwing them away.
This is an old method but one that still happens on a regular basis today. If possible, install a lock on your mailbox.
If you work during the day and have packages being delivered, consider having them delivered to your workplace or even a trusted neighbors house instead of them being left unattended outside your property.
Keep Your Eyes on Your Online Accounts
If you haven’t set up account notifications from the financial institutions with whom you do business, then do so. This is an incredibly important step to ensure that you are always up-to-date with any changes to your accounts.
If you need a password to login to a website there is usually some form of information that others could steal.
All passwords should be a mixture of lower and upper case letters, numbers and symbols. They should also not be common words that are easy to guess.
Never use the same password across multiple sites as well. If somebody can gain entry to one account, they will have access to them all.
Whenever possible, use two-factor authentication which will add an extra layer of security in addition to your password.
Whenever you login to accounts using two-factor authentication you will be required to provide a second piece of proof to verify your identity which can mean entering a code sent to your smartphone or computer, and many institutions require it when customers want to change account details.
Public WiFi may be convenient but it isn’t secure. If your only means of accessing the internet while you’re out is public WiFi, do you really need to be connected?
It is actually quite easy to setup these WiFi networks and scrape the data of anyone using it. They will often give it a name that at a quick glance, you would be sure that it was a legitimate network.
Always make sure that the network you are connected to is secure and that it can be trusted. If in doubt, don’t use it.
Check Your Credit Report Often
To ensure all the data is accurate and that nobody has opened up accounts under your name, make sure to check each of your credit reports at least yearly. In many case this won’t cost you a thing as there are quite a few legitimate companies offering a free credit report.
If possible, pull one report every four months so that you’re looking at your reports throughout the year. Check the reports over carefully for any issues and if you notice a problem, dispute it with the lender and the bureau immediately.
Only Shop With Trusted Sites
If you do any shopping online you need to be careful which sites you trust and share your information with. Not all may be as it seems.
Using secure and trusted websites to shop online can help further protect your personal and credit card information when you purchase items. For example, if you’re shopping on a website, make sure that there’s an “https” before the URL, instead of just an “HTTP.”
Social Network Sharing
This should go without saying but you need to be careful what information you share on your social media profiles.
Many people seem to feel the need to share every little part of their day-to-day lives from the moment they wake up until they go to bed.
Identity thieves can easily scan these social networks for personal information to piece together identities.
- Don’t post any personal information or location data
- Be careful what is shown in any photographs that you share
- Make sure social media accounts like Facebook are not viewable by people you don’t know
Freeze/Lock Your Credit
Freezing or locking your credit are two easy ways that can limit the use of your credit information.
- Freezing your credit – restricts access to your records so new credit files cannot be opened unless you unfreeze your account.
- Locking your credit – strongest protection to prevent identity theft.
Monitor Your Statements
Don’t ignore your credit card and bank statements. You should be fully aware of each and every charge, no matter how small. Know due dates and call to investigate if you do not receive an expected bill.
If you notice that your bills statements are showing up late or not showing up at all, you should contact the lender or business to find out what the reason for the delay is.
If you believe that you’ve been the victim of identity theft, there are a number of steps that you can take to protect yourself. You could file a police report, contact the credit bureaus or freeze your credit, but ultimately the path you take to resolving the problem will depend on the nature of the crime.