Identity Theft: How to Safeguard Your Identity

by Joe Beckford

It’s something most Americans don’t think about until it hits the headlines, like the recent credit card breach at fast food chain Wendy’s. Yet, nearly 15 percent of the population - more than 34 million adults - has reported some form of identity theft, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center. That makes the odds pretty good that it could happen to you at some point.

While there’s little you can do to prevent a major data breach that might expose your sensitive records, there’s plenty you can do to fortify your own records and reduce or eliminate the opportunities for identity thieves to turn your life upside down.  Your own vigilance is your first and last line of defense, and it can be heightened by incorporating very specific identity theft prevention measures into your daily routines.

Email

  • If you suspect any hacking of your email account, such as hearing from friends that they received a strange email from you, immediately change your password.
  • As an extra precaution, don’t store emails that contain sensitive information or attachments.
  • Be wary of emails from financial institutions, even the ones with which you do business. Double-check the source.
  • Never open a link in an email requesting personal information. Legitimate organizations never request personal information through an email. There is absolutely no reason to provide your social security number or credit card number to anyone in an email. Financial institutions and government agencies never ask for it by email.

Online accounts

  • Always use the most extensive password you can with a combination of upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols. Also, refrain from using the same password on multiple accounts. If you have to, you can use a password generator and vault program to automatically create random passwords and store them, so you only have to remember one password.
  • Never shop on an online site that is not familiar to you unless you have done extensive due diligence.
  • Check your online financial accounts frequently looking for suspicious activity.

Internet use

  • Cyber thieves use increasingly sophisticated technology to create malware and viruses that can actually record your keystrokes and find sensitive information on your computer. Always make sure to have the most recent version of your anti-virus software installed.
  • Never enter sensitive information on a public computer.

Credit and debit card use

  • Only carry one credit card at a time and store the others in a secure place such as a safe.
  • Be vigilant of credit and debit card skimmers – devices that can be disguised as normal readers on ATMs which can capture your card number and PIN.
  • Never give your PIN to anyone, and, if you must write it down, store it securely.

Mail

  • Go paperless. Mailboxes are still sources of valuable information for identity thieves.
  • Shred everything except legal documents you need to retain, but store those in a secure place.

It’s a trillion dollar industry in a wide-open market, so identity thieves are relentless in their pursuit of your information; and, the more vulnerable you leave yourself, the higher the odds you will be targeted. Make identity theft prevention your top priority.