Safeguard Your Information Offline
Thieves only require minor details about your personal information to steal your identity. They don’t need your entire credit report or all the numbers on your bank account. These crafty individuals can access all they need with a simple receipt or basic information from your health insurance card. To avoid becoming a victim and to protect yourself from identity theft, follow these simple tips.
Lock it Up – Keep all of your personal information and paperwork securely locked and guarded. A safety deposit box or lock box are both great places to keep birth certificates, social security cards and passports. Marriage certificates, divorce papers and bankruptcy filings should also all be kept under lock and key.
Shred – Even receipts that have only a few digits from your credit card can give an identity thief enough information to damage your credit. Always shred all receipts, bills and any mail or correspondence that has your personal address, phone number or account information. Also ask businesses what they do with your personal information to be sure that it is being disposed of in a proper manner.
Go Postal – Avoid using your mailbox for outgoing bills if you can. Try to send all of your mail directly through the post office. Likewise, if you have credit cards or checks coming to you, ask that they be held at the post office or open a post office box to avoid letting those items sit in your mailbox.
Be a Minimalist – Carry only what you need on your person. You wallet should only contain the bare essentials for identification purposes, like your driver’s license, you medical identification card and your credit or debit cards. All other items should be locked up at home or in a safety deposit box. Medicare cards and other items that may reveal your social security number should be marked up so that only the last few digits are visible. This will also help protect your identity from potential thieves.
Keeping Your Information Secure Online
There are several things you can do to protect your identity online. Here are a few things to keep in mind when you conduct business with companies over the internet.
Verify – Most companies allow for bill payments and purchases over the internet. This can be extremely convenient, but unless you are sure the company uses an encrypted website, do not assume your information will be secure. Encrypted websites will have the prefix “https” with the “s” representing a secure site.
Check Them Out - Unless you have done business with a company before and can verify that they are reputable and trustworthy, checking them out thoroughly is essential if you want to protect your identity. Look for verification certifications and search for complaints about those websites before you do business with them and send them any personal information.
Automate – Use an automated software program that will scan your system for security breaches, malware and spyware on a regular basis. These viruses can wreak havoc on your computer, but more importantly, can allow identity thieves to access your personal information.
Change Passwords – Try to change your passwords on a regular basis. Once a month is a good rule of thumb. Keep a list of all your passwords on a computer file that is located on a portable drive, never on your computer. When you choose a password, make sure it is random and does not contain numbers or names that are associated with you personally, like anniversary or birthdates.
Watch for Phishing – Identity thieves and scammers will often phish for your personal information by sending out fraudulent emails or pop-ups. These can be hard to spot because they look like legitimate offers or notices from companies you do business with already. Many of them will even appear urgent or claim that your account has been hacked. Never respond to unsolicited claims like these. Contact the company directly to see if they have sent you that notice. Most legitimate companies will never contact you directly and ask for your account number or personal information unless you have initiated the correspondence.
Take these steps if you have become the victim of identity theft.
Even if you take every measure to protect your identity, there is still a chance that you could fall victim to one of these scammers. Follow these steps if you have become a victim of identity theft.
Set up a Fraud Alert – Contact every company that you do business with to notify them of the identity theft. Record the date and time of all phone calls, and who you spoke with. Follow up with letters sent to the companies by certified mail. An identity theft lawyer will be able to help you complete the necessary fraud alerts.
Freeze Accounts – put a freeze on all of your accounts to avoid future transactions. Be sure to keep a record of the date of the freeze so that you can limit your liability on the fraudulent charges. Contact an identity theft lawyer to help you navigate this process.
Send an Identity Theft Report – When you file an identity theft report with the companies you do business with, they will have 30 days to send you copies of your records. Have an experienced identity theft lawyer review these with you to determine which charges are fraudulent and how to address them.
Request Your Credit Reports – Immediately get copies of all your credit reports so that you can have an accurate picture of what your credit history is like before any further damage is done. This will be useful as you collaborate with an identity theft lawyer to recover from identity theft.
No one wants to fall prey to an identity thief. However, if you do, these simple steps can help you protect your identity and provide ways to ensure your personal information will be safeguarded in the future.