We all as individuals value our identities but never more so than when it comes to protecting our hard earned dollars. Identity theft and fraud have become more and more of a problem in the digital age and every day people are struggling to find ways to combat such intrusions into their lives.
Recent research has shown that no matter how careful you might be, there is still a high statistical probability that you will at some point of your life become a victim of this type of crime. A study conducted in 2019 by Javelin Strategy & Research discovered that about 1 in 20 Americans fell victim to some sort of identity theft or fraud, with losses totally a staggering $16.9 billion, that’s up a worrying 13% from 2018.
Although this all might seem the epitome of inescapable crimes but there are ways for you to protect yourself so you don’t become just another crime statistic. So read on to find out 10 important tips to help you fight identity thieves.
Protect Your Social Security Number at All Costs
With all the numbers we have to remember in our lives, none is more important than our Social Security number, it’s essentially a master key that will open any door to our personal data. It advisable that you don’t carry your card around with you as the hassle of losing it might be the least of your worries.
It’s best to securely store it in a personal safe or lockbox, and make sure any documents or paperwork with your number on it that you no longer need are shredded. The best piece of advice we can give you is that when someone asks you for your Social Security number, first ask what they need it for and secondly what measures they will be taking to secure it against potential fraudsters.
Using Weak and Predicable Passwords
When it comes to creating a password or picking a security question to secure your account, you’ll be surprised just how ingenious criminals can be when it comes to finding out personal information like your mother’s maiden name or the cute name you gave your French Bulldog.
A lot of people tend to use the same password for various accounts, but this can be fatal when it comes to protecting your identity. Password managers are a fantastic tool for generating complex and unique passwords for each individual account you have and adding an authenticator app just added that extra layer of security.
Be Mindful of Your Mobile Devices
As we said earlier, most if not all of us walk about with a phone in our pockets these days, and we also use them for all manner of transactions or for logging into our accounts. However, this handy tool comes with many risks, a recent Javelin’s report agrees as it found only 48% of people tend to lock their phones on a regular basis.
By there are a myriad of ways to protect yourself from having your phone hacked or worse yet, stolen. Always password protect your phone, remember our section on using weak and predicable passwords? Set up a personal identification number with your cell phone provider. It’s always a good practice to keep the software on your phone updated and use two-factor identification or authentification apps when available, especially when dealing with sensitive accounts.
Last but not least, like with the Javelin report and people not locking their phones, people tend not to switch off their Bluetooth and Wi-Fi when they are not using it. Try not to use public Wi-Fi either, you never know who could be watching. Finally, watch out for opening strange attachments as malware could be hiding in the shadows.
Freeze Your Credit
If you don’t want to freeze your credit, look into identity theft protection services. While these companies cannot prevent identity theft, they can alert you when your personal information is used and help you recover from fraud. Credit monitoring services offered by the three main credit bureaus are similar, but they often fall short on protections, especially if the credit bureau itself suffers a data breach.
If you want to restrict access to your records, you can freeze your credit with the three main reporting bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. This way no new credit files can be opened and the service is completely free and you can unfreeze your credit whenever you want.
The fact is that in today’s world we all carry around a tiny computer in our pockets. One we use to browse Twitter, Facebook or Instagram but remember it can also be used as an alarm, and we don’t mean to wake you up in the morning.
Most banks and financial companies will allow you to sign up for their alert system so that when any transactions are made on your credit cards or there are withdrawals from any of your accounts, you will be instantly notified. The sooner you know something is wrong, the quicker you can take steps to make it right.
Keep an Eye on Your Snail Mail
Emails might be the preferred method of communication today, but the standard letter has not gone extinct quite yet. The theft of your mail has unfortunately not gone extinct either and it is one of the easiest way to find out a plethora of information about you, but fear not there are many ways to protect yourself.
Using a U.S. Postal Service-approved lockable mailbox or you can sign for Informed Delivery through the USPS which gives you a preview of your mail so you can tell if anything is missing. If you know you are going to be out of town for a while then you can ask to have your mail held at the post office.
Buy a Shredder Today
As our last tip points out, your mail is the easiest way to steal information from you, and not just from straight out of your mailbox. Any mail you do receive and then throw in the garbage is also prime location for those with nefarious intentions.
Invest in a shredder today, it’ll only set you back around $30 for a standard model. The offset cost of not shredding your paperwork could definitely cost you a lot more.
Download a Digital Wallet
Before you head out to buy that shredder we recommended, you should take a minute to download a digital wallet instead of having to carry a physical payment card that can be lost or stolen or lost and stolen or just stolen!
These apps are mostly free and will create digital versions of your credit and debit cards Use it to shop online or at a compatible checkout terminal. The transactions are tokenized, encrypted and can be used contactless, which in today’s coronavirus world that can be a bad thing.
What’s the Score?
Despite most financial experts saying you don’t have to check your credit score that frequently we tend to disagree. You may want to check it on a pretty regular basis so you can see if there is an problems with your score, problems not caused by you. Using something like Nerdwallet will give you alerts if there are any changes to your score.
The three major credit reporting bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion are giving consumers access to a free credit report weekly until April 2021, due to the coronavirus so it might be handy to make use of this free service while you can.
Read, Read, Read!
We may have become a nation of people who don’t read the terms and conditions or the small print and just click YES! You should really take the time to go over your credit card and bank statements with a fine tooth comb. Make sure you are aware of what every little transaction is and when you are expecting a bill and you don’t receive it, call and ask why?
We know it can be not just a terrible inconvenience when criminals target you and you have to contact companies and have to listen to that insufferable hold music but it’s something that can destroy not only your life but your financial health as well. So always be mindful and use these tips to ensure they don’t get their grubby little hands on all you’ve worked so hard for.
Stay safe, stay secure.