There are many ways you can go about protecting yourself from identity theft. Practicing these prevention techniques will help to increase the safety of your identity.
Monitor your finances
Frequently check your bank and credit accounts for suspicious activity, such as unusual withdrawals and payments. Pay attention to your credit report as fraudulent activity may affect your score. You can get a free copy of your credit report once a year at annualcreditreport.com or call 1-877-322-8228. The three credit reporting agencies can be found at equifax.com, experian.com and transunion.com. Sign up for text alerts with your credit card company so each time your card is used you are notified.
Never leave personal information unsecured.
A locked car is not a secure location. Identity thieves target trail heads, gyms, day care centers, and other locations where it is likely people will not bring their purses or wallets with them. A purse or wallet without any cash could still be worth over $10,000 in personal documents and credit cards. If you don’t feel comfortable leaving $10,000 somewhere do not leave your identity there.
Watch for Scams
Scammers are constantly coming up with new ways for stealing your identity and getting your cash. If someone is offering you something for nothing or a deal sounds too good to be true it may be a scam. If you have to deposit a check and/or wire money it may be a scam. Also be aware of romance scams, lottery scams, IRS scams, hostage scams, and scams inducing people to part with their money through social engineering schemes.
Practice safe Email, Text and phone etiquette
Do not respond to requests for personal information through email, text or over the phone. Companies and government agencies that have a legitimate interest will not contact you this way. Never go to a link or open an attachment if you do not need to.
Shred sensitive documents before discarding
Thieves can easily search through your garbage to find documents with personal information. Before throwing out old bills, bank statements, receipts or other items that may contain this information make sure to shred them so that they cannot be read.
File your taxes as early as possible. Last year $6 billion in fraudulent tax returns were filed. Reduce the chances you or one of your dependents will be targeted by filing as early as possible.
Be cautious when using ATMs
Check to make sure that an ATM’s card slot is legitimate and not temporarily or unofficially attached to the machine. Some scammers utilize “skimmers,” devices designed to steal card information through its magnetic strip. Scammers will also place hidden cameras overlooking key pads in order to steal your PIN number. To avoid this try to use familiar ATMs, limit the amount of transactions you make and shield the keypad with your hand when punching in numbers.
Use care at the pump
- Skimmer devices can be attached to both the inside and outside of a gas pump and connected to the magnetic strip reader. The easiest way to avoid gas pump skimmer devices is to pay inside the gas station instead of at the pump.
- When paying consider using a credit card instead of a debit card. Credit cards usually have better fraud protection and the money is not immediately deducted from your bank account.
- If available use the closest gas pump to the attendant as they are the least likely to have been tampered with. Also, try not to use pumps that are out of the attendant’s sight or poorly lit.
- Some gas stations use security stickers on pump access doors. Avoid pumps that have damaged security seals and report issue to attendant.
- Consider using a prepaid card that you keep a limited dollar amount on.
- When in doubt use cash when purchasing gas.
- If you see any suspicious activity or people around the pumps please call 911 or notify the gas station attendant.
Watch your mail
Don’t leave mail in your mailbox for extended periods of time. Bills and incoming checks contain sensitive personal information that can easily be stolen if left unattended. If you know you are going to be away from home for a long amount of time you can call your local post office and set up a vacation hold so that no mail will be delivered until you return (You can set up a hold electronically by visiting holdmail.usps.com). You should also take all outgoing checks and mail containing personal information to the post office or nearest post office collection box and never leave them in your mailbox.
Opt-Out of Unsolicited Credit and Insurance Offers
Although identity theft through pre-approved credit and insurance offers is rare it is still possible. You can reduce the number of unsolicited credit and insurance offers you receive by placing yourself on the federal governments National Do Not Call Registry. To register your phone number or to get more information you can call 1-888-382-1222 or visit donotcall.gov. You can also visit the official Consumer Credit Reporting Industry website optoutprescreen.com or call 1-888-5-OPT-OUT.
Protect Your Electronic Devices
- Your computer, laptop, cell phone, tablet, gaming device and online accounts can contain everything a thief needs to steal your identity.
- Make sure to create passwords that mix letters, numbers and special characters. Change them often and do not use the same password for more than one account.
- Keep up to date antivirus software installed on your devices at all times.
- Never click on any links or attachments you are not sure of.
- Confirm that your computer is only communicating over a secure connection. Do not connect to secure accounts, such as your bank or email, when you are connected to an unknown or public Wi-Fi network.
- Thieves can create fake websites that mirror legitimate ones in order to steal personal information. Whenever you are shopping online or entering sensitive information check to see if the web address begins with “https.” This means that the website you are on is secure.
Safe Social Networking
- Social networking through sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn has become a major part of many people’s lives. These sites are a great way to stay connected with friends and family but you should be cautious about how you use them.
- Anything you post online is permanent even if you delete it. Information such as your address, phone number and birthday are all things scammers can use to steal your identity. One common way that hackers break into accounts is through the “Forgot Password” link on the login page. Sharing the answers to your security questions, such as the names of your pets and where you went to high school, can give hackers easy access to your accounts.
- Be selective when accepting friends. Make sure you really know them and it is them requesting.
- Manage your privacy settings. Only share information with friends and family. Regularly check your privacy settings to make sure that they haven’t changed.
- Sometimes social media accounts will automatically link with one another, sharing your information. If you post information that you do not want shared between accounts make sure to disable this feature before sharing anything.
For more information
For more information on identity theft and to find out what to do if someone has stolen your identity visit;