Identify theft became a hot topic with the recent Equifax data breach, causing many Americans to be concerned about the safety of their personal information. And their concerns aren’t unwarranted either. According to a survey done by Bankrate.com, 41 million Americans have been victims of identify theft. It’s clearly a widespread problem that many people didn’t even know existed – until it happened to them.
Most Americans aren’t taking the necessary steps to protect themselves from identify theft until it’s too late. For those unfortunate enough to have had firsthand experience, it’s a scary experience that can take years to fix. And in the process, your finances can get destroyed. Before this happens to you, it’s important to take the steps to safeguard yourself from identity theft. Here’s what you should do:
Closely Monitor Your Bank Statement
Most people hardly ever check their credit card or bank statements. If your account information is compromised, you might not even know about it until it’s too late. So be proactive. To be safe, it’s best to check your statement monthly. You should also make it a habit to log into your accounts at least once a week to review the transactions and see if anything looks off. The earlier you catch any unauthorized transactions, the easier it will be for you to dispute the discrepancies with your bank.
Check Your Credit Report Yearly
You are legally entitled to a free credit report every year from each of the three major credit bureaus, TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax (ironically). Take advantage of this. Your credit report can change often so it’s important you know what’s going on, especially if you plan on making a large purchase or taking out a significant loan in the near future. However, be cautious where you get your report. I use AnnualCreditReport.com. There are many other websites that offer free credit reports but they may charge you fees after a period of time so be sure to read the fine print.
Strengthen Your Passwords
We share so much on the internet. Most of us are on at least one social network, if not more. We also depend on the internet to do much of our shopping and banking. While it’s a great convenience, it’s also dangerous as well. Many hackers prey on unsuspecting internet users and shoppers, just like us. Before you post something on a social profile, be careful what you share, especially if it contains any personal information. Also, use strong passwords containing a mix of capital and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols. You should also periodically change your passwords as well, especially for sensitive accounts such as your email and bank account.
Secure Sensitive Documents
Paper trails can be just as dangerous as digital ones. Keep your sensitive documents in a safe place in your home, ideally in a locked cabinet or safe. You can also consider opening a safety deposit box at your bank to keep important documents and valuables. Lastly, if you need to get rid of any documents with sensitive information on it, be sure to shred them beforehand to prevent them from getting into the wrong hands.
Don’t Give Out Personal Information
If something sounds fishy or phishy, it probably is. Don’t fall victim to a phishing scam. If you receive any requests for personal information, such as your social security number, don’t give it out, even if it comes from a company you recognize. Scammers disguise themselves as something or someone else all the time. Call the company and speak to a representative first before you give out any information. Make sure you invest a bit of time to look up the contact information though, because some scammers cleverly build websites to provide false phone numbers for you to call.
The most important thing to remember is to be proactive and vigilant. Identity theft is a real concern but with the right steps, you can prevent it from happening to you.