Identity theft is on the rise, and it’s scary. Being defrauded in this way can be devastating – thieves can clean out your retirement and bank accounts, open credit cards or get loans in your name, give your name and address to the police when they are arrested, and even use your health insurance to get medical care on your dime. And what with data breaches happening so often, it’s almost guaranteed that your personal information is already out there.
That doesn’t mean you have to be vulnerable to identity theft. You can do a lot to protect yourself, and you should. Here’s what you should do.
Keep Your Personal Information Secure
You shouldn’t carry personal documents like your Social Security card, your Medicare card, your health insurance card, or your financial documents, unless you’re going to need them that day. Keep these documents at home in a safe place.
You need to be on guard when it comes to giving out your personal information, too. Do not give out your financial, personal, or health insurance information to anyone unless you made the contact and you have a relationship of trust with the person. If anyone asks for your Social Security number, ask them how they’re going to use it, why they need that information, and how they plan to protect it.
Be Careful When Using Public Wifi Connections
Free public wifi isn’t secure enough for sensitive transactions, like banking and shopping. Hackers can see everything you do on a public connection and they can steal your data if you’re accessing your bank account or other sensitive information on a public connection. Either avoid those kinds of personal transactions, or use a virtual private network (VPN) when connecting to a public hotspot. When using a device in public, shield your hands when you key in passwords and keep credit cards out of public view.
Lock Your Mobile Devices
Routinely lock your devices with a password, so that if someone steals one, or it gets lost, your personal information will be at least a little more secure. Use apps instead of a mobile browser for sensitive transactions like shopping and banking.
Use a Unique and Strong Password for Every Online Account
Each one of your online accounts should have its own unique password. If you use the same password across multiple accounts, and hackers find out what it is, they can access all your accounts. Use unique and complex passwords and consider adding an authenticator app to the mix for an added layer of security. If nothing else, turn on two-factor authentication (2FA).
Use a Digital Wallet
A digital wallet offers the most secure way to pay for goods whether you’re shopping online or in a physical location. You put your credit card and debit card information into the digital wallet, where it is stored securely. Each transaction receives a unique token that hackers can’t reuse to make more purchases. They’re also encrypted for additional security.
Monitor Your Credit
Monitoring your credit is important because changes in your credit report can alert you to identity theft. New accounts or inquiries, collection items, and changes to your credit score that you don’t recognize could all indicate that you’ve been a victim of identity theft. You can get a free annual copy of your credit report from each of the major reporting bureaus – stagger them so you get one every four months. Better yet, invest in ID security software that provides credit and dark web monitoring, identity fraud insurance, and restoration assistance.
Keep an Eye on Your Mail
If you know you have certain bills and statements coming in the mail, keep an eye out for them because mail theft remains a primary means of identity theft. Use USPS Informed Delivery so you’ll know what you should be getting and you’ll know if something gets stolen out of your mailbox. Collect mail in a timely fashion, and consider opting out of prescreened offers of credit. Keep your eyes peeled for any bills or statements that aren’t yours, too.
Monitor Your Statements
You need to closely read your financial statements and make sure you recognize all the transactions. If you don’t get a bill when you expect it, call to ask about it. When you receive health plan explanation of benefits documents, make sure you examine them to verify that you actually received the care – if not, someone could be using your health insurance.
Identity theft may be common, but it doesn’t have to happen to you. By taking steps to protect yourself, you can avoid getting your identity stolen – and act quickly to take your life back if you need to.