10 Ways to Prevent Identity Theft

Identity theft is a real problem. The best way to deal with identity theft is to prevent it from happening in the first place. 

10 Ways to Prevent Identity Theft

These ten tips will help you avoid identity theft so you don’t have to deal with the stressful consequences. 

Pay with Cash

Paying with cash keeps your credit card information secure. Use cash instead of card at gas stations to avoid skimmers and at restaurants to prevent unscrupulous employees from recording your data. 

Cash payments also prevent nefarious people from shoulder surfing and obtaining your card information at the ATM and checkouts. 

Stay Alert in Public

Stay alert while using a card in public (or even at an ATM to get cash). Be mindful of people around you who may be trying to steal your card information. 

If you aren’t careful, these shoulder surfers are peaking over your shoulder or around your waist with their cellphones, ready to grab photos of your information.

To prevent shoulder surfing, cover the pin pad during transactions. Keep your card number and security code covered and out of view of those around you. 

It may feel awkward at first, but covering your information with your hand will become second nature after awhile. 

Monitor Your Credit and Accounts

Monitoring your credit report and accounts won’t prevent identity theft, but it will help you catch and resolve any problems swiftly. It may also stop a bad situation from turning into a terrible situation, a critical piece to handling identity theft. 

If you monitor your accounts regularly, you should be able to catch any suspicious activity before it causes you undue hardship. Monitoring your credit reports will ensure no new accounts have been opened in your name. 

Credit monitoring is crucial because sometimes people don’t steal your bank information, but with your address and phone number, they can open new lines of credit. All of your real accounts look just fine, so you may not even realize that your credit is slowly being destroyed.

Another new thing I just heard of is when nefarious players open new lines of credit in your name, then slowly build that credit. You may be thinking, “Hey, this is the Santa of identity theft. They are actually helping me out!” but that’s not the case. 

They target folks with poor credit who are less likely to monitor their accounts, then slowly build the credit up. Once the credit is in good standing, they take out massive loans, then ditch out, leaving the credit in shambles. 

It’s really the long con of identity theft. Monitoring your credit will help you identify any items that shouldn’t be there, and the faster you find them, the easy they are to get off your report.

Freeze Your Credit

Freezing your credit can be annoying, but it’s also one of the best ways to prevent identity theft. If your credit is frozen, no one can open new lines of credit in your name, including you.  

If you are shopping for a new home, car, credit card, or anything else requiring credit, you must call and unfreeze your credit.

Freezing your credit won’t prevent people from stealing and using the accounts you already have open. You still need to protect your bank accounts and current lines of credit.

Use Strong Passwords (and Change them Often!)

Password hacking is one way that thieves can access your account information. The best way to protect your passwords is to use strong passwords that aren’t easily identifiable to you and change them often.

A strong password combines letters, numbers, and special characters. They also sprinkle in a few capital letters to keep things interesting. Avoid using things that are special to you, like children’s and pets’ names, your hometown, or your favorite sports team.

The strongest passwords are random numbers and letters, which can be challenging to remember. I know experts don’t recommend writing down passwords, but if you keep a log of passwords in a private journal locked up in your house, it will probably be safe from hackers.

You can also use two-factor authentication for extra security.  Most banks and credit card companies offer this option. 

Protect Your Computer

Protecting your passwords is only half of the battle regarding safeguarding your personal information in a technological world. You also need to protect your computer physically and in the digital world.

Physically protecting your computer is common sense. Don’t leave your laptop unattended at coffee shops, airports, or anywhere else you might be using it.

Protecting your computer in the digital world is less intrinsic but still essential. Ensure you have a lock screen password, and don’t let websites auto-store your important passwords. Don’t log into any of your financial accounts when connected to public WIFI, and ensure your home network is secure.

Avoid questionable websites, and install good antivirus and anti-malware programs. 

These steps will help prevent malicious code from getting into your computer and will help ensure that your personal information is safe from hackers.

Protect Your Mail

Fraudsters don’t have to be high-tech. Not everyone out to get your identity will do it by hacking your computer and stealing your information online. Some simply go after the personal details sitting right outside your home – in your mailbox.

Most people get tons of spam mailers from credit card companies and home refinance companies. It is all too easy for people looking for a quick buck to steal these offers out of the mail and apply for them. They have your full name and address right on them! 

Although I hope those companies have ways of preventing fraud, I’d rather count on myself than on them. Ensure you bring your mail in every day as soon as possible, giving people less of a chance to steal these offers right out of your box.

The ability to steal mail showcases why monitoring your credit is essential. You will see if someone does nab something out of your mailbox and gets issued a new line of credit in your name.

Use a Shredder

Dumpster diving is still a real thing. Usually, we think of dumpster diving in terms of flipping or grabbing couches off the side of the road on trash day, but some folks take it to a whole new level. 

They dumpster dive for your personal information.

Think about how many documents you have in your house with your personal information. Those credit card offers we just talked about have your name and address. You might have tax forms with your social security number or date of birth on them. Utility bills have all your account information on them – how easy do you think it would be to call a utility company and order a new service with just the information on the bill? 

You likely have tons of random documents lying around with personal information on them.

The best thing to do with this stuff is to shred it before you throw it out. Invest in a shredder, and run everything that has any personal information on it through the shredder before you toss it.  

Set up Security Alerts on your Bank Cards and Credit Cards

My Capital One credit card sends me email notifications for shady-looking transactions. Usually, this happens if I’m making a significant purchase or if I’m gas station hopping. 

 I need to pull out my phone and respond to the email that, yes, I really did intend to buy a thousand dollars worth of junk at Michaels, or yes, I did just get gas in Pennsylvania and West Virginia in the span of two hours. 

If I don’t respond, the transaction won’t go through. I also can answer that I was not actually trying to spend a thousand dollars at the nearest cigar shop. If that happens, they will automatically cancel my card, and I’ll have to get a new one.

Although it can be annoying, I’m incredibly thankful for this service. They may not catch all suspicious activity, but it’s good to know they are paying attention, alerting me, and trying to stop fraudulent activities.

Know the Scams

Many identity theft scams come to you via telephone or email. There are so many that it’s impossible to name them all, and nefarious players are always coming up with new ones.

It’s important to know that legitimate companies (and government agencies) will not call you and try to guilt or strong-arm you into giving personal information over the phone. The IRS will not call and threaten to arrest you if you don’t pay immediately. Your bank will not contact you to verify your account number. Your social security number does not expire.

These are some of the common phone scams that I’ve heard of, but the bottom line is never to give out personal information when someone calls you asking for it. 

If you aren’t sure, you can always hang up and call back from the company’s officially registered number (call the number on the back of your bank card, go to the IRS website, and call their number, etc.). 

There are no real-world repercussions for verifying the identity of anyone who calls you. If they say those things are not allowed, it’s a scam.

Email scams are prevalent as well. Generally, email scams come in the form of phishing. A fake website will send an email posing as a legitimate site. You might get an email that looks like it’s from your bank, asking you to “click here” to verify your account. The link will even take you to a legitimate-looking website. 

But there are always signs. 

The URL won’t be correct – instead of bankofamerica.com, it will be something like bankofamerica.ex.com or bankofamerican.com. There may be some typos on the webpage, or it might look slightly different than you are used to.

The critical thing to remember is never to enter your account information if you clicked on an email link. If you did receive an email asking for information, call the company’s official number to resolve any potential problems. If you need to log into your online account, do so from a trusted URL.

Bonus: Stop Giving Your Information Away on Social Media

The games are fun, aren’t they? Your Vampire name is the name of your first pet, plus the street you grew up on. Okay, usually (but not always), they are more sophisticated than that, but these social media games are designed to get your personal information. 

And remember, your name is already linked to whatever answer you give. A tech-savvy thief will only need a few more pieces of information to access your accounts. 

Even innocuous-seeming questions, like your last meal or the last show you watched, can give hackers insight into you and your habits. It’s best to avoid these games.  

You Can Prevent Identity Theft

Identity theft is a growing type of crime. We must always be a step ahead of the people trying to take advantage of us.

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