- More identity theft takes place in the home than in any other place.
- Your phone and postal mailbox can be just as vulnerable to identify theft as your personal computer. Go paperless wherever possible.
- Use a variety of multi-character passwords.
- Freeze your credit ASAP if you think your identity has been stolen.
Remember those commercials in which a woman with a man’s voice is on a shopping spree or an exotic vacation? She’s stolen someone’s identity. At first it’s humorous, but then it’s chilling when you realize, “Boy, this could happen to me.” Don’t let it.
Here are seven steps you can (and should) take to protect your identity:
- Protect your home. Believe it or not, more people have their identity stolen at home than anywhere else. Family members, friends, domestic workers—all kinds of seemingly trustworthy people are in your house and can easily find paper account statements lying around or look into the computer you’ve left on. Don’t leave this information unattended or easy to find.
- Protect your mailbox. Many times postal “snail” mail gets misrouted to neighbors who can steal your statements, or unscrupulous people can steal the mail right out of your mailbox. Use electronic mailboxes for as many bills and statements as possible. They can be a pain to set up, but it’s worth the time and effort to protect your identity.
- Freeze your credit. If your identity gets stolen, the first thing many crooks do is apply for credit or a loan in your name. If you suspect identity theft, contact the major consumer reporting agencies—Experian, Transunion and Equifax—right way and put a freeze on your credit. Once you do, you can’t apply for credit, but neither can the crooks. In many cases, you have to alert only one of the Big Three credit agencies.
- Protect your Social Security number. Never give your Social Security number to anyone, and don’t carry your Social Security card around with you. The majority of folks who ask for it don’t really need it. There’s almost always a workaround.
- Guard your public phone calls. When making phone calls in public, never give out personal details such as your home address, phone number or where you were born. It’s very easy for fraudsters to overhear you and use that information to steal your identity.
- Safeguard your computer. Obviously your PC is a prime gateway that hackers use for identity theft. Make sure you have strong antivirus and anti-malware programs on your computer.
- Strengthen your passwords. Make sure you use multiple passwords with a variety of upper and lowercase letters, numbers and special characters in each password. I know it’s a pain, but if hackers do breach your computer, they’ll be less likely to come back and hack again if the passwords are tricky. If nothing else, be diligent about the passwords for your financial accounts.
It can be cumbersome to follow these steps above, but ask anyone who’s been a victim of identity theft. I’m sure they’ll say they wish they had.
Until next time, enjoy. Gary
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