Each year, more than 9 million people have their identity stolen, resulting in debt, lost job opportunities, and even a criminal record. Avoid becoming a part of this statistic by taking a few precautionary steps to keep your personal information safe.
Keep Your Social Security Number Safe
Only give your social security number out when absolutely necessary, and take the proper steps to ensure it’s not spread to inappropriate channels or people who will take advantage of the information. For example, if you are filling out a rental application, you will notice that you are asked to include your SSN and bank account information. Suggest that your potential landlord use a service like Mysmartmove to conduct a background and credit check. This way, your sensitive information won’t be floating around on a piece of paper.
Keep the Card at Home
There’s no reason to be walking around with your social security card, in fact, it’s a top way to get your identity stolen. Lost or stolen wallets are a key cause of identity theft—especially when a social security card is found within—and the most consequential as well. Unlike a credit or debit card, a stolen social security card cannot be replaced except in extreme cases, and this unique number will follow you for the rest of your life. Should a thief get ahold of this information, he or she would be able to get a job under your name, give your information to the police should they become involved in a crime, or open new accounts, among many other things.
Watch Your Social Media Presence
We live in a world that’s constantly coming up with new ways to get connected, but these connections can actually do us harm if the proper precautions aren’t followed. Many social media networks require a host of personal information entries, and these sites—even the most reputable—can be vulnerable to outside attacks. Even seemingly innocent information can be used by identity thieves, including your full name, address, date of birth, and hometown. As many often use pets’ names or significant dates for passwords (which we shall address in the next section), thieves can harness a variety of key pieces of info from social media that may be helpful for hacking accounts. Minimize the amount of personal information you use on various social accounts, only allow approved people (that you know personally) access to your social media pages, and be wary of what you post.
Become a Password Expert
The best passwords are those that contain upper and lowercase letters, along with symbols if applicable. Longer passwords are more secure, but a minimum of six digits is a good place to start. It’s also essential to constantly change your passwords, and never use the same password for multiple accounts. Don’t choose passwords that could be obvious to anyone who knows you: no pets’ names, no birthdays, and no phone numbers. If you struggle with remembering your passwords and are wary of the encryption methods available online, keep a copy in a locked safe in a hidden portion of your home, and remember to replace or update as you change them. If your kids know any of the passwords to your personal computers or online accounts, be sure you emphasize the importance of keeping them confidential.
Monitor Your Statements
Make sure you go over credit card statements, bank transactions, and other key documents to ensure there are no fraudulent charges or suspicious activity. Early detection can help you recoup your losses and change your personal information before the thief is able to abuse your credit any further. The longer identity fraud goes undetected, the more time and money it will take to right any damage that may have been caused. Elect to have a non-damaging credit report each year, or each month if you plan on making a large purchase in the near future.
Get a Shredder
Shred all documents you no longer need that contain sensitive information, including account numbers, social security information, unused checks, and credit reports. The $30 price tag of a shredder is much cheaper than the devastating effects of an identity theft. Other great things to shred or destroy by any means possible are expired driver’s licenses or credit cards—any possession with personal information that you wouldn’t want in the hands of a stranger. Always check with your employer to ensure any sensitive information given at work is also discarded in an appropriate manner to minimize your chances of identity theft.
The consequences of identity theft are wide spanning and can have devastating effects on your future. Be sure you take the appropriate steps to minimize your risk from identity thieves, and always keep a close eye on your accounts to ensure no fraudulent activity is occurring without your notice.
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