In 2014, some 12 million Americans fell victim to identity theft, according to the Javelin Research and Strategy. While this represents just a tiny fraction of the U.S. population — the fallout can be devastating if you’re among the unlucky few.
Fraud protection services provide an important line of defense. Additionally, there are a number of measures you can take on your own — both offline and online. Here’s what you can do to significantly reduce your vulnerability to identity theft and fraud:
Offline Security Measures
Regularly monitor your banking and credit card account statements. By carefully reviewing transactions and expenditures, you’ll be able to quickly spot a purchase you didn’t make: like jewelry purchased from somewhere you’ve never been.
Make the shredder your friend. Whether at home or at work, don’t leave paper statements lying around. Statements with personal information (credit card bills, banking records, credit card applications, etc.) should always be stored in a secure location and shredded once you’re done with them. Remember that junk mail can include personal details and should be sent to the shredder rather than the recycling bin.
Keep a close eye on your mail. Collect your mail promptly each day and take outgoing bill payments to the post office or to post office collection boxes rather than leaving them in your home mailbox for pick up. If you’re going to be away from home for more than a day or two, ask the post office to put your mail on hold. Also, be aware if bills or financial statements are late (they may have been stolen) — and avoid having new checks mailed to your home unless you have a lock on your mailbox.
Safeguard your PIN. Never write a PIN for your credit/debit card on a piece of paper and store it in your wallet. When you’re at an ATM, beware of anyone looking over your shoulder and use your free hand to shield the keypad.
Travel lightly. Avoid carrying around a purse or wallet packed with credit cards. Instead, take only what you’ll need for each outing — and always leave your Social Security card at home in a secure location. (Only share your SSN when absolutely necessary.) If you have a Medicare card, make a copy and black out all but the last four digits. Carry this copy with you unless you make a trip to the doctor’s office.
Monitor your credit report. You are entitled to a free report annually from each of the three bureaus — (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) — so request a different report every four months (through each agency or at annualcreditreport.com.) Look for abnormal activity, particularly credit card lines you didn’t open.
Online Security Measures
Change your passwords each month. By now you’ve heard this more times than you can count, but this advice bears repeating. Equally important, avoid using the same password for multiple accounts. Should a thief get hold of it, he could go on quite a shopping spree. Additionally, be sure to clear your logins and passwords — particularly if you are working on a public computer.
Use your credit card for online purchases. Federal law offers better guarantees for credit cards than for debit cards and online payment services.
Beware of suspicious e-mails. Phishers will use spam or pop-ups to look like legitimate banks or businesses in order to get your personal information, which can then be used to access your accounts. If you have any doubts, don’t click on links in an email. Instead, type the company name into your browser, go to the site and contact customer service to see if the request for information is authentic. Never enter personal information unless you can confirm you’re on a secure website.
Clean up behind yourself. Before you discard your old computer, clean it of all personal information by using a wipe utility to overwrite the hard drive. Similarly, when you upgrade to a new mobile device, remove the subscriber identify module (SIM) card from your old device — as well as the phone book, messages sent and received, photos, etc.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of EZShield Inc. alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of any other person or entity, including specifically any person or entity affiliated with the distribution or display of this content.