Identity theft is a growing concern in today’s digital age. With hackers and scammers becoming more sophisticated, protecting personal information has never been more critical.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) estimates that as many as 9 million Americans have their identities stolen yearly.
This means that an identity is stolen every 3 seconds, costing the average victim nearly $4,000 and nearly 175 hours to straighten out their problems and their credit.
How can you protect yourself from the dangers of identity theft? Here are some suggestions.
1. Conduct a Credit Check-up
Visit annualcreditreport.com to obtain a free credit report every 12 months. Review all three of your credit reports and look for any suspicious activity, unusual or inaccurate names or addresses, or any inquiries that were done without your knowledge.
In many states, you may place a 90-day “Fraud Alert” on your credit report, which further restricts access to your credit information. Simply call one of the three main credit bureaus to activate the alert:
- Equifax: 1-800-525-6285
- Experian®: 1-888-397-3742
- TransUnion®: 1-800-680-7289
2. Don’t Give It Up
Avoid falling prey to phishing scams, both over the phone and through email. In a phishing scam, identity thieves pretend to be someone from your bank or a credit institution and simply ask you for your personal information.
If someone contacts you and requests any personal information, don’t give it to them.
Verify who is requesting the data and why, and then call the institution yourself. One extra phone call could save you a lot of trouble and money.
3. Stay off the Pharm
While phishing enables thieves to pilfer information from you, pharming is another kind of scam that consists of hijacking your computer and stealing your personal information.
A pharming site is designed to look just like the website you’re trying to visit. However, enter your information on this fake site, and not only can it track your moves within it, but it may also direct your computer to give up other personal information at a later time.
Be sure you are visiting the correct site and that the address in the navigation bar is correct before entering any information.
4. Return to Sender
Some scammers simply fill out a change of address form and divert your mail to another location. Others simply steal the mail they want right from your mailbox. The key to avoiding this scam is to know your statement delivery dates and pay close attention to any unusual delays in delivery.
Many identity thieves do things the old-fashioned way: They rummage through your trash to collect your information that way. Be sure to shred any junk mail or other documents that may contain your personal information before you throw it away.
5. Opt-out of Special Offers
Visit optoutprescreen.com to cut down on the pre-approved offers from credit card and insurance companies.
It’s also a good idea to have your clients opt out as well, especially if they’re thinking about buying a home. When people apply for a mortgage, they often become “trigger leads” to the credit bureau, which sells your clients’ information to any number of companies.
It only takes a few minutes to opt-out, but it could spare your clients a ton of junk mail and could possibly save them from identity theft.
6. Keep Sensitive Documents Saf:
Invest in a fireproof safe to store important documents such as birth certificates, passports, and Social Security cards. This adds an extra layer of protection if your home is burglarized or damaged.
7. Use Strong and Unique Passwords
Create complex passwords for your online accounts and avoid using the same password for multiple sites. Consider using a password manager to keep track of your login credentials securely.
8. Enable Two-Factor Authentication
Whenever possible, enable two-factor authentication (2FA) for your online accounts. This provides an additional layer of security by requiring you to enter a one-time code sent to your mobile device or email.
9. Regularly Update Software
Keep your operating system, antivirus software, and applications up to date. Software updates often include security patches to protect against known vulnerabilities.
10. Secure Your Wi-Fi Network
Set a strong password for your Wi-Fi network to prevent unauthorized access. Additionally, consider hiding your network’s name (SSID) to make it less visible to potential hackers.
11. Be Cautious with Personal Information
Avoid sharing sensitive personal information, such as your Social Security number or financial details, over the phone or through email unless you initiated the contact.
12. Check Your Bank and Credit Card Statements
Regularly review your bank and credit card statements for any unauthorized transactions. Report any discrepancies to your financial institution immediately.
13. Monitor Your Credit Score
Keep an eye on your credit score and watch for any sudden drops, which could be an indicator of identity theft. Many credit monitoring services offer free credit score checks.
14. Be Wary of Social Engineering
Criminals may use social engineering tactics to manipulate individuals into revealing confidential information. Be cautious when receiving unsolicited calls or messages, even if they appear legitimate.
15. Report Suspicious Activity
If you suspect identity theft or come across any suspicious activity, take immediate action. The sooner you act, the better your chances of mitigating the damage.
In today’s interconnected world, safeguarding your identity is a constant battle against evolving threats. Implementing these fifteen essential tips can significantly reduce your risk of falling victim to identity theft.
By taking proactive measures, staying vigilant, and educating yourself and your loved ones, you can protect your personal information and financial well-being.
Remember, the key to thwarting identity theft is not just in responding to threats but in preventing them from occurring in the first place.
Guard your identity as if it were your most valuable possession – because it is.