How to Protect Yourself From Identity Theft
Identity theft is a widespread problem in the U.S., affecting an estimated 60 million Americans. Thieves can use your identity to make purchases, take out loans, access medical care, or conduct any number of other fraudulent activities. This can severely damage your credit score, and it can take months, if not years, to fully recover. To prevent identity theft, you need to be proactive. By following these tips, you can help protect your identity and keep your financial assets safe.
Be password smart
Password protection is a staple for almost any online account. Because passwords are so popular and can grant access to valuable personal information, they are also a primary target for bad actors. Thieves can steal passwords in several ways, including spyware software, Wi-Fi traffic monitoring, and phishing attacks.
To protect your identity, use a variety of passwords, rather than the same password for every online account. If you're worried about having to remember all those unique passwords, consider using a password manager app. These apps store your passwords and allow you to access all your accounts quickly and easily.
Use secure sites
Scammers will often create fake websites or hack into sites with low security protections to steal users' identities. Fake websites are particularly concerning for anyone who shops online, as thieves love to target banking information. So, before entering any personal information online, look for the lock icon in the web address bar. This icon will tell you if the site you're on is secure. Only use secure sites when online shopping or transmitting sensitive information.
You should also think twice about the security of your Wi-Fi networks. Many public Wi-Fi networks, like the ones available in malls or coffee shops, are unsecured, meaning the traffic on those networks can be intercepted. If you're going to be shopping or accessing banking or medical information, it might be best to wait until you get home and can use a secure network.
Protect your documents
Identity protection offline is just as important as it is online. To keep your information safe, you need a plan for storing and disposing of your important files. For documents you want to hold on to, consider storing them in a home safe, safety deposit box, or some other secure location. For documents you no longer need, use a shredder or a professional document destruction service. Proper disposal will keep dumpster divers from getting their hands on your most sensitive information.
Get the mail
Protecting your physical documents also means being smart about your mail. Because the vast majority of official government and financial documents will come in the mail, thieves can access your sensitive information as easily as they can open your mailbox. To stay safe, don't leave mail sitting in the mailbox for too long and contact the post office to put a hold on your mail if you go on vacation.
A healthy dose of skepticism can go a long way to keeping your identity safe. Scammers will try anything to impersonate legitimate businesses in hopes of tricking you into giving them your information. If something feels out of the ordinary, or if you notice lots of typos or inaccuracies, these are good signs something is a scam. Also, beware of phishing emails that include offers that are too good to be true and never click on a link in an email from someone you don't know.
Remember, too, that government agencies won't just call you out of the blue asking for personal information. If this happens, hang up because it's likely a scam. Official government information will almost always arrive by mail, and reputable companies have other ways to contact you and verify your information.
Secure your devices
With so many bad actors out there trying to steal your information, it's critical that you keep your internet-connected devices secure. Installing anti-virus software, anti-spyware software, and firewalls on your devices can help protect against unwanted intrusions.
Securing your devices also means protecting the physical devices themselves. All the anti-spyware software in the world won't protect you if your laptop gets stolen and you don't have security systems in place. Make sure you lock up your devices at school or work and don't leave personal information visible on your screen if you step away from your computer in public places.
Get professional protection
Identity theft protection has become big business, and countless companies now offer some form of professional identity protection services. Whether it's fraud alerts, credit monitoring, or full identity protection, there's a service to meet your needs. Just make sure you know exactly what you're getting when you sign up. Some companies offer monitoring and will alert you when something suspicious happens, but they don't offer any way to fix the problem. Other companies offer true protection that actively guards against identity theft and will help with the recovery process, should your information get stolen. All forms of protection are valuable; it just depends on what your needs are.
These same kinds of services are available through many credit card companies and financial institutions. The Credit Union of Texas offers identity theft protection on our Secure Checking and Secure Checking Plus accounts. Our dedicated Fraud Prevention Center will contact you if anything looks suspicious so we can verify the activity. CUTX also provides credit monitoring and identity theft resolution services.
For more tips or information on how to protect your identity, contact us, and we'd be happy to help in any way we can.