With today’s technology in general and the internet in particular in conjunction with the ever increasing savvy of computer hackers, identity theft has become an epidemic in the United States. It is a problem that is virtually impossible to eradicate entirely, but consumers can take steps to protect themselves from becoming a victim.
How to Protect Your Identity
Whether it is making fraudulent charges to your credit card accounts or trying to open other accounts in your name based on your good credit score and history, hackers are determined to find ways to live high on the hog at the expense of someone else’s good financial standing.
So, what can the average consumer do to make himself less of a target for identity thieves? The following are just a few steps that anyone can take toward that end.
Don’t Throw Away Documents, Shred Them
Documents like credit card and bank statements contain valuable information that identity thieves thrive on. They have been known to dig through trash cans and find these documents that consumers have absentmindedly tossed in the trash.
An alternative to getting rid of these unneeded documents is to either shred them in an electric shredder or lock them in a safe place inside the home. Doing so makes it impossible for thieves to use conventional means to find your financial information and use it for their own ends.
Exercise Diligence in Maintaining Your Credit
Monitoring your financial accounts regularly rather than every once in a while or when you’re about to make a big-ticket purchase is important to thwarting identity thieves. Always be on the lookout for red flags such as notices from banking and other financial institutions that your email or mailing correspondence address has been changed. Monthly or even weekly checks of your financial accounts can mean the difference between catching unauthorized use of those accounts and denial of credit because of it.
Annual Credit Report
Thanks to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), consumers are able to receive a free copy of their credit report each year from each credit reporting agency (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion). I recommend requesting a copy from one agency at a time 2 or 3 times per year to keep an eye out for identity theft or other mistakes on your credit report. The easiest way to request a copy is through the government sponsored website annualcreditreport.com.
Save Your Account Password Somewhere Other Than Your Computer
These days, there are passwords for everything from our email accounts to online banking and financial accounts and everything in between. Many people use the same password for everything that requires one which is not a good idea if you are trying to keep identity theft at bay. Try to use different passwords or some variation of the same password for each account and if you can’t remember them, write them down and keep them in a secure offline location.
Be Aware of Phishing Scams
Phishing is a terms that was coined a few years ago to refer to fraudulent email messages that appear to come from creditors such as a bank or a mortgage lender. They have the institutions logo and can otherwise appear official and typically will request the recipient’s personal information like account numbers, social security number, or account passwords. Financial institutions never request this type of information over email so be wary of any messages that are of this ilk. Nearly 100% of the time they are coming from a source that is “fishing” for information that can be used to steal someone’s identity.