How to Protect Your Identity
In 2018 alone, there were nearly 19 million reports of identity theft in the United States. Identity theft involves someone else using your personal information to create fraudulent accounts, charge items to your existing accounts or even to get a job. You can minimize your risks by managing your personal information wisely and cautiously. Here are some ways to protect yourself from identity theft.
• Before you reveal any personally identifying information, find out how it will be used and whether it will be shared.
• Pay attention to your billing cycles. Follow up with creditors if your bills don’t arrive on time. Going paperless can help avoid concerns like this, as your bill will likely be sent via email or directly through your bank.
• Guard your mail from theft. If you’re concerned about the security of your mailbox, deposit outgoing mail in post office collection boxes or at your local post office. Promptly remove mail from your mailbox after it has been delivered. If you’re planning to be away from home and can’t pick up your mail, contact the U.S. Postal Service toll-free at 1-800-275-8777, or visit usps.gov to request a vacation hold.
• When possible, require passwords to use your computer, credit card, bank and phone. Avoid using easily available information like your mother’s maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your social security number or telephone number, or any series of consecutive numbers. It’s a good idea to keep a list of your credit card issuers and their telephone numbers in a safe place.
• Don’t give out personal information on the telephone, through the mail or online unless you’ve initiated the contact or you know who the person is. If someone calls and asks for personal information, say something like, “I don’t like to give personal information away on calls I didn’t initiate. Let me call you back on your publicly-listed business number.” If the call is legit, the caller will give it to you; if not, you may save yourself from identity theft.
• Tear or shred documents like charge receipts, copies of credit offers and applications, insurance forms, physicians’ statements, discarded bank checks and statements, and expired credit cards before you throw them away. Be cautious about leaving personal information in plain view, especially if you have roommates or are having service work done. Before you trade up your computer or phone, wipe out any personal information.
• Find out who has access to your personal information at work and verify that the records are kept in a secure location.
• Be careful what you say on social media. Don’t include your home address and don’t make it obvious that you’re on vacation, like posting a photo of your boarding pass or luggage tag.
• Be wary of wifi when you’re in public places: Don’t send personal information via an unsecure wifi connection. You might look into purchasing a virtual private network, or VPN, which creates an encryption between you and the remote VPN server, thus masking your identity. Even seemingly harmless browsing can be information your internet service provider can sell without your permission.
• Never carry your social security card; leave it in a secure place at home. Give out your social security number only when absolutely necessary.
• Order your credit report every year from annualcreditreport.com to make sure it is accurate and includes only those activities you’ve authorized.
• Only carry the identification that you actually need when you go out.
Sources ftc.gov and InfoArmor.com