When someone takes your identity, it can be used to steal money, commit fraud, or perform a variety of other crimes in your name. According to the Federal Trade Commission, identity thieves can "drain your bank account, run up charges on your credit cards, open new utility accounts, or get medical treatment on your health insurance." They can even get your tax refund.
Your identity can be stolen offline, but you may be vulnerable to online theft as well. But don’t worry: you can protect yourself! Take the time to adopt a few strategies to make sure you’re not a victim of identity theft.
Watch the mailbox
Don’t leave sensitive documents in an unlocked mailbox. If your mailbox doesn’t lock, remove your mail daily and bring outgoing sensitive mail to a post office or postal mailbox.
Click with caution
If you don’t know who sent you a link, be careful before you click. Emails insisting you change passwords or adjust account information may be trying to trick you into opening a virtual backdoor into your computer. Only open emails from trusted sources and make sure you have anti-virus and anti-spyware on your computer to protect yourself. If you use online banking or pay bills online, type known web addresses into your address bar and never set computers or smartphones to remember and fill usernames and passwords for secure accounts.
Shred, shred, shred
Always destroy sensitive paperwork before you dispose of it. If you need to trash documents with financial, personal, or identifying data, shredding provides an important extra step of security. And that junk mail that touts pre-approved credit offers? Shred it so others don't take it and open accounts in your name.
Phone a friend, not a thief
Be wary of anyone calling you and asking for personal details. If you receive a call from someone who says they need your financial or personal information, check the source. Be very selective when discussing account numbers, personal details, and other key data points on the phone. In many cases, they are not who they say they are. It’s best not to even answer the phone if you don’t recognize the number or the caller ID. You could always listen to the message and call them back later if it’s someone you know. Like Freedom Mortgage!
One card for buying online
Designate one credit card for all of your online shopping so that if a scammer gets into your accounts, they only have access to a single card and won’t have multiple entry points into your finances. Also, try to use credit cards for online purchases rather than debit cards. Debit cards often have fewer fraud protections compared to credit cards. Also, purchases made with debit cards withdraw cash from your bank account and unauthorized use of your debit card can leave you short of money you need for other bills.
Check your statements.
Keep an eye on your statements to double-check your purchase history. Make reviewing your monthly statements a habit. When you do this, odd purchases or charges may stand out so you can report fraudulent activity ASAP.
Switch up log-ins
Remembering more passwords makes your information more secure. If you use a single password for all your various online accounts and profiles, you are very vulnerable. In addition to complex passwords, make sure you are using distinct log-in information on different websites. Just one password for the sake of convenience means that if someone decodes it, they have access to everything!
Enable two-step verification
You can very easily double-up on security and avoid headaches later. It can be a pain to use multi-factor authentication when you’re logging into an online account or profile. However, this extra step provides a useful and much-needed barrier between your personal accounts and online thieves.
Extra emails eliminate blind spots
One email address for everything can be one big vulnerability. If you have two-factor verification turned on, add an extra layer of security by constructing more than one email account. That way, if a scammer accesses your email, they aren’t able to reset or lock all of your account information.
Keep it all to yourself
Never share your personal passwords. As tempting as it can be to share accounts and passwords, remember that the person you trust may not be as concerned with their own online security. If their devices get exposed to thieves and frauds, they might also expose your personal information as well.
Check your credit report
Visit AnnualCreditReport.com to obtain a free copy of your credit report from each of the nationwide credit reporting companies every 12 months. Watch your three credit reports for any suspicious activity such as unusual or inaccurate names or addresses or any unfamiliar inquiries. Disputing inaccuracies on your annual credit reports is your right—you can find free letters at consumer.ftc.gov by typing "sample dispute letter" into the search box.