The negative impacts of identity theft are far-reaching—not only can it result in lost money, but it can be months before your credit report, accounts, and insurance returns to normal.
However, many people may unknowingly be putting themselves at risk for identity theft. Thieves obtain personal information in ways you may not realize; in fact, most identity theft doesn’t come from stealing wallets or purses. Thieves are getting savvier every day, but these tips will help you keep your identity and your finances safe:
According to the US Secret Service, card skimming is the number one hacking-related form of identity theft. The thieves place devices that capture or steal credit card information and PIN numbers, most commonly in ATM machines and gas station card readers. Protect yourself by covering your hand when entering your PIN number so surveillance cameras can’t capture your keystrokes, and pay for gas with cash or a credit card if possible.
Your mailbox can offer many opportunities for identity thieves. Banking and credit card statements, card offers, tax information, and more offer enough information for thieves to take over your identity. If you’re going to be out of town, have the post office hold your mail. You can also protect yourself further by opting to have your mail sent to a PO Box instead of your home.
Your wallet or purse may contain a treasure trove of information for identity thieves, so take inventory and remove anything that could make it easier for someone to steal your information. First and foremost, never keep your social security card in your wallet—it’s all a thief needs to open accounts in your name. You should also avoid carrying your checkbook (which contains your routing number and account number), passport, and spare keys to your home.
Also, if you lose your purse or wallet and nothing is missing when it’s recovered, don’t assume you had a near-miss. It’s easy for a thief to copy down account and routing numbers, credit card numbers, and so forth.
Identity thieves use non-financial information as well. Facebook, Twitter, and blog posts often contain a wealth of information that identity thieves could use, so avoid putting your address, birth date, and other personal information anywhere on your social networking profiles or job search sites.
Online shopping makes life easier for everyone, and identity thieves are no exception. Protect your financial information online by using complex passwords (no birth dates or kids’ names), keeping your software up to date, and only entering credit card information in secure, encrypted sites. A site is secure if it has an “s” after “http” in the address bar.
If you want to get serious about protecting your financial information and credit, a credit freeze is often considered the most effective way to prevent financial identity theft. A credit freeze prevents the major credit reporting agencies (Experian, Expedia, and TransUnion) from releasing your credit report without first contacting you for permission. That means anyone who tries to open any kind of account in your name won’t be able to unless you authorize it.
You can help minimize the damage of identity theft by keeping a close eye on your finances. Go over your statements each month, and make sure your check your credit report periodically to ensure there are no accounts you are unaware of.
Knowing how thieves obtain your personal information can help you better protect yourself from identity theft and its consequences.