You’ve probably heard all the warnings about how damaging identity theft can be and how important it is to protect your identity from fraudsters. However, it can seem intimidating and time-consuming to make some of the recommended changes to your personal data security.
But time you use to protect yourself from id theft is always well-spent, especially considering how much time and how many phone calls it would take to remedy the situation if a thief was able to use your identity fraudulently for months before you even detected the crime.
The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) reported that data breaches in the United States were up in 2016, an increase of 40 percent from the year before1, and a Pew Research 2016 roughly half of Americans feel their personal information is less secure than it was five years ago2. Don’t rely on retailers to keep you safe. As a consumer, protecting your information is crucial so that your credit report and financial accounts remain untouched.
If you still don’t think you have time for id theft protection, here are some security tips that are quick and easy to follow. In fact, they consist simply of things not to do:
- Don’t give out your Social Security number: We’re accustomed to filling out forms for practically everything, from gym memberships to rental agreements, and it’s important to not become too comfortable with giving out your personal information. Start training yourself to question the necessity of the information before committing to paper or electronic file. For instance, your child’s school may need your phone number in case of emergencies, but do they really need to know your child’s Social Security number? Do you really want your home and email addresses listed in the school directory? In most cases, organizations will be fine with you omitting certain sensitive information and just giving them the necessities.
- Don’t hang onto unnecessary financial documents: Shredding is an essential part of your identity protection, especially for all those prefilled credit card applications you have no intention of completing. Keeping these documents filed in your house can leave you vulnerable in the event of a break in. Be proactive and shred any outdated financial documents, tax records, insurance forms and mailed pre-filled forms.
- Don’t ignore suspicious activity: If your credit card is declined unexpectedly, or if you start receiving calls from debt collectors for payments you didn’t make, then it’s time to take action. Ignoring the critical signs of id theft could only make your problem worse.
- Don’t use public Wi-Fi to access private information: Unsecured public Wi-Fi networks could make it extremely easy for hackers to see sensitive information you’re entering online or in any of your bank apps. To play is safe, don’t login to your email account, check your bank statement, make any online purchases or enter your Social Security number while using public Wi-Fi.
- Don’t use one password for all accounts: Using only one password makes hacking into your accounts that much easier for cyber-criminals, so create a unique password for each account, even social media profiles that you might not think are as important. If you have trouble remembering a variety of passwords, consider using an online password manager that can keep your passwords encrypted and secure yet accessible whenever you need them.
If you don’t have the time or inclination to closely monitor your financial accounts and credit report, then consider registering for a credit monitoring service that can notify you of certain kinds of activity that may indicate fraud. This could save you a great deal of hassle and work in the longrun.
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1 - ITRC Data Breach Report, 2016
2 - "Americans and Cybersecurity" Pew Research Center, 2016