Identity theft is on the rise, increasing by 13% in 2011, according to Javelin Strategy and Research. Identity thieves often access personal and sensitive information through:
- A stolen wallet or credit cards
- Documents or receipts in the trash
- Phone or email scams
- Hacking unsecured computers and wireless networks
Once identity thieves gain access to personal information, they can purchase items on your credit card, open new credit cards, or even file a fraudulent tax return in your name.
As in most cases of fraud, the best protection is prevention. Here are six helpful tips to take to protect yourself from identity theft and keep your information safe and secure.
- Use Common Sense When Sharing Information. Be mindful of what you say and where you say it. Between the increasing number of social networks, from Facebook to Twitter, or LinkedIn to Google+, a significant amount of personal information is being shared publically online or our mobile phones. Don’t share or post personal information online like, address, phone numbers, e-mail address, driver’s license number, Social Security Number (SSN), birth date, birth place, school’s name, or student ID number. This type of information can be used to authenticate a person’s identity.
- Create Strong Passwords and Update them Frequently. From time to time, it is important to change commonly used passwords. Remember to create a strong password, by avoiding common or easy to guess passwords. Common passwords often include a birthdate, a pet’s name, mother’s maiden name or a person’s school or work. A strong password usually has both capital letters and at least one numeric or other non- alphabetical character. Do not share your password with others.
- Download and Keep Anti-virus Software Updated. When you connect your computer to the Internet, anti-virus software protects it against viruses and other harmful attachments that can access your information. Security threats range from spam to pop-up windows where the culprit copies and sends your personal documents to other computers. If you are using a public computer, make sure the internet connection is encoded to scramble your information and remember to delete your web history after each session.
- Credit vs. Debit Card Transactions, Monitor Your Purchases. For online transactions, using a credit card is often safer than a debit card because of stronger fraud and identity theft protections. Most credit card companies will alert the account holder with significant purchases or suspicious activity. Plus your credit card is not directly linked to your personal checking or savings account, which can help save you from potential losses.
- Check Credit Reports. Utilize Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion for one free credit report every year. Take advantage of these free reviews in order to catch anything that isn’t correct. If any information has been compromised, set up a fraud alert with the three major credit bureaus to put a security freeze on your files and information.
- Be Smart about Phishing Scams. These email scams can come from a party claiming to be trustworthy, asking you click on a link and confirm personal details including address, account numbers, or even a social security number. No legitimate business will ask customers to confirm sensitive information through an email. Do not open any attachments or download files from these types of emails. Phishing emails can be flagged and forwarded to [email protected].
If you believe your identity has been stolen, it is important to put a hold on bank and credit accounts, change commonly used passwords, and file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. Providing the FTC with an overview of what information has been compromised allows them to build a case for any wrongdoing. Unfortunately, the FTC cannot get any money lost back, but can help safeguard against further fraudulent activity and make an investigation behind any hacked information.