In 2015 alone, more than 13 million Americans were victimized by identity theft, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. What can you do to guard your identity and protect yourself from potential financial losses?
Here are some ideas to consider:
Review your statements. Closely review the monthly statements from your checking and other financial accounts. If you find any unfamiliar charges, contact your bank or other financial services provider immediately.
Order your credit reports. The three credit reporting agencies – TransUnion, Equifax and Experian – are each required by law to provide you one free credit report a year. Make sure your name, address and other information are correct on your credit report, and if you find old or inaccurate information, have it removed.
Place a fraud alert. If you suspect you have become a victim of Identity theft, place a “fraud alert” on your credit reports by contacting any of the three credit reporting agencies. You can choose a short-term or long-term alert. And if you’re an active member of the military, you can request a special, one-year alert.
Feed your shredder. Shred all old bank and investment statements, applications for new credit cards and any other documents that contain personal information.
Destroy digital data. If you have a variety of financial accounts, you’re not just creating a paper trail – you’re also establishing a digital “footprint.” So, when you sell or otherwise dispose of a computer system or hard drive, you may want to take steps to destroy personal data. You might think that simply deleting it would be sufficient, but tech-savvy identity thieves can “undelete” files or recover information from a formatted drive. However, products are available that allow you to completely wipe out data on hard drives.
Change passwords. It’s a good idea to change your Internet passwords every so often – especially those passwords that provide access to financial accounts.
Leave your Social Security card home. Snagging someone’s Social Security number is a real “catch” for identity thieves, so do everything you can to thwart them. And you can start by leaving your Social Security card safely at home – after all, there’s probably never a good reason to bring it out, anyway. In fact, be wary of anyone, or any business, that asks for your Social Security number, either in person or online. Except for a few obvious exceptions, such as your tax preparer, most reputable businesses don’t need to know anything about your Social Security information.
Watch for “phishers.” If you’ve ever gotten an e-mail, supposedly from your bank, advising you that your account will be “frozen” unless you provide personal details about your account, it’s a good bet that someone is “phishing” for this information – and they’re using the “freezing” threat as bait. What’s particularly alarming is that these “phishers” have gotten quite good at duplicating logos and using official-sounding language. However, a legitimate bank would never threaten you this way with an e-mail, so, if you get such a message, contact the bank’s fraud department.
You can go a long way toward protecting yourself against identity theft by following these suggestions — so put them to work soon.