Costing businesses and consumers billions of dollars each year, identity theft is the crime of obtaining personal or financial information of another person for the sole purpose of assuming that person’s name or identity to make transactions or purchases. This includes obtaining information such as social security numbers, birthdays, passwords, and other information that can be used to open credit cards or loans under your name.
This fraud can be disastrous for your finances, your credit record, and even your good name. We have consolidated some best practices that you can implement immediately to prevent your financial information and identity from getting into the wrong hands.
Check Your Credit Report
It is very important to review your financial credit report at least once a year to ensure that there is no suspicious or fraudulent activity. There are three major credit bureaus, Experian, Transunion, and Equifax, that will give you a free credit report once a year if you request it.
Use Strong Passwords
Use unique, strong passwords that are not easy to guess. Avoid using common information like your name, birthday, place of birth, and other information that can be obtained from your public or private records. Establish passwords that use complex sets of letters, numbers and symbols (such a $, !, &) that can create stronger passwords. Do not use the same passwords on all your online accounts and keep them in a safe, secure place, and don’t save your passwords on your computer.
Watch Your Mail
Keep a close eye on your mailbox and collect your mail regularly, especially if it is easily accessible to others. Criminals target mail that is easily accessible to steal bank statements and other sensitive documents that are mailed to you. Consider establishing a post office box if you are concerned about your mail being accessed and take outgoing mail to the post office.
Establish Online Statements and Bill Pay
Set up online banking and bill pay with your bank and/or credit cards, and be sure to enroll in eStatements (electronic versions of your statements versus paper copies mailed to you) where available. By managing all your accounts online you can limit the access to your financial information with encrypted, online platforms and have the added advantage of accessing your account information from anywhere that you have internet access!
Sign Up for Account Alerts
Sign up for alerts with your banking and credit card accounts to review notifications when specified or suspicious activity occurs. Most financial institutions offer fraud alerts, but you can also establish alerts based on amounts transacted on your account, For example, if you want to be alerted when more than $100 is charged to your credit card or debit card, you could set up a notification to alert you (text and/or email) about the transaction. Check with your bank and credit card companies for available notification settings.
Shred Your Documents
One of the best investments you can make is to purchase a document shredder to dispose of documents that contain financial or sensitive information. Get into the habit of regularly shredding documents (receipts, credit card and bank statements, insurance documents, medical records, checks, etc.) before you throw them away. Criminals will “dumpster dive” to get these documents for information, so make sure the information is not accessible once you decide to dispose of it.
Destroy Prescription Labels
Another source for criminals to illegally obtain and use your sensitive information is prescription labels. Criminals can use this information (date of birth, health insurance number, contact information, etc.) to refill prescription, use your name or health information to see a doctor, or file false claims with your insurance provider. The information on medical bottles and documents associated with your prescription should never just be tossed out. It should be properly removed from the bottles and shredded before disposing of it.
Use Only Secure Websites and Wifi Connections
When accessing websites, look for the lock symbol (up by the URL field at the top of the browser window) before making any online purchases through the website. This helps ensure that the site has been properly encrypted and protected for collecting sensitive information.
Also, be sure to use only wifi connections that are secure before you log into your accounts or access your email account. This includes accessing public wifi networks at malls, businesses, cafes, and other places that offer free or paid wifi access.
Maintain Antivirus and Antimalware Software
Keep all your electronic devices (computers, mobile smartphones, tablets) up to date with current antivirus and antimalware software. Cybercrime continues to grow, so keeping your digital footprint secured and properly protected is a critical but easy practice to maintain. Most devices provide settings to automatically update this type of software.
Limit What You Carry With You
Limit the number of identification and financial cards you carry with you, in case they are lost or stolen. Keep copies of all your cards, secured in a locked or online-secured location, for reference in case you lose the cards.
Watch for Phishing Emails
Beware of emails that “phish” for sensitive information by claiming to be legitimate financial institutions. Your bank should never request your personal information through email, such as confirming account number, password, credit card number, or social security number. Additionally, think twice before opening email attachments from unknown senders, as this may contain viruses and malware from scammers trying to access information on your computer or mobile device.
Beware of Unknown Callers
Be suspicious of anyone contacting you, either on the phone or email, looking for information. If someone is claiming to be calling from your bank, credit card, collection agency, or government agency, ask who it is and call the dedicated number (typically a 1-800 number) listed on their official website or on the back of your credit card.