Identity theft is a serious crime that can be catastrophic to your finances and credit score. Even if you catch a breach quickly, resolving the damage may be costly and incredibly time-consuming. Fortunately, there are things you can do to protect yourself. Here are nine ways to minimize the risk of becoming a victim of identity theft or fraud:
1. Check your credit reports. You’re entitled to one free credit report every year from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus. Request one report every four months and review it for suspicious activity and/or incorrect information.
2. Strengthen your online passwords. Use random combinations of letters, numbers and special characters. Create different passwords for each account and change them frequently. There are several trusted websites that will auto generate a password that will be nearly impossible for anyone (yourself included) to guess.
3. Secure your phone. Lock your device with a password, turn off Bluetooth when you’re not using it, and be cautious when downloading apps — especially free versions of popular apps, which may contain malware.
4. Guard your Social Security number. Avoid sharing it when it’s not absolutely necessary, and don’t keep it, or your Social Security card, in your wallet. Believe it or not, thousands of people each year get their identity stolen as a result of having their social security card stolen.
5. Be smart about social media. Consider leaving personal details, such as your birthday or address, off your social media profiles. Strengthen your privacy settings and be cautious about whom you accept as a connection.
6. Shred your documents. Don’t toss bank statements and credit card receipts in the trash. Dispose of them using a shredder or shredding service.
7. Know the signs of phishing. Watch out for emails, links or unsolicited phone calls, asking for your personal information. For those who aren’t familiar with “phishing” just check your spam — there are sure to be dozens of emails from scammers.
8. Monitor your financial statements. Report any suspicious activity in your bank and credit card accounts as soon as you notice it.
9. Keep your mail safe. Stealing your mail is one of the easiest ways for a thief to steal your identity. Consider using a locked mailbox or P.O. box, and have the post office hold your mail if you have plans to leave town.
We can’t guarantee these nine steps will completely safeguard you from a potential threat, but they will definitely increase your chances of keeping your identity safe. Feel free to share any additional suggestions in the comment section!