Victims of identity theft often spend dozens of hours and hundreds of dollars navigating the process of correcting the effects of identity theft. Depending on the type of theft, this may include disputing credit report errors, closing accounts, correcting government records, and even sorting out medical files that contain information about someone else’s medical history.
You can decrease your chance of ever having to go through this process by taking some precautionary steps to protect yourself. The Federal Trade Commission estimates that every year, 9 million people in the United States are affected by identity theft. Keep yourself out of this statistic by paying attention to securing your personal information and making it difficult for thieves to access it.
Learn How an Identity is Stolen
An identity thief needs to have specific personal information about you to steal your identity. When you know what this information is and how thieves tend to get it, you’ll be better armed to protect yourself from being a victim. Here are some of the most common methods thieves use:
. Looking through your trash to find financial documents that contain your account numbers, Social Security number, and other personal details
. Skimming your credit card information by swiping the card through a machine that steals the information, perhaps when you hand over the card to make a purchase
. Stealing your mail or submitting a fraudulent change of address request to divert your mail to their address
. Stealing your wallet or purse and using the credit and debit cards, checks, and information found in it to steal your identity
. Posing as banks or other groups you already do business with in an effort to get you to reveal information about your accounts and how to access them
. Posing as you when dealing with an organization to try to get that organization to reveal some of your personal information
Best Ways to Protect Yourself from Being a Victim of Identity Theft
1. Do not give sensitive personal information to anyone, including friends and relatives. Research shows that over 60% of identity theft victims believe they know the person who committed the crime. Information like your mother’s maiden name, the elementary school you went to, and other personal details may help someone break into one of your accounts through the secret question for password recovery.
2. Shred documents that contain your personal information before you throw them away. This includes account statements, tax documents, and even pay stubs. Setting up online delivery on statements you don’t want to receive can help reduce the amount of paper you need to shred.
3. Keep financial documents in a locked file cabinet, or a safe in the case of one-of-a-kind documents, like your Social Security card and birth certificate. This keeps them from being stolen if your home is broken into.
4. Create a unique, secure password for every account. Passwords should have uppercase and lowercase letters, at least one number or other character, and should be more than 8 characters long. Passwords that do not contain any words that could be found in a dictionary are ideal.
5. Never give your password to anyone. Financial institutions and other websites will never call or email you to ask for your password. The only time you should ever provide your password is if you have navigated to the site on your own, not through a link in an email. Don’t hesitate to look up the organization’s phone number and call if you suspect suspicious activity.
6. Install up-to-date virus protection software on your computer. Some viruses can log keystrokes and skim personal information through similar methods. In addition, you should set up a firewall to protect yourself when you’re online.
7. Do not access sensitive information over unsecured wireless networks, like those at coffee shops and other public locations. You are most vulnerable to security threats when you are on an unsecured network.
8. Be aware of when documents usually arrive in the mail and call the company if you don’t get one you have been expecting. Your mail is most secure in a locked mailbox or drop slot in your door. Never put outgoing mail containing checks or account information in your mailbox for pickup.
9. Keep an eye on your credit card when you hand it to anyone to swipe. If possible, do not pay with a credit or debit card at a restaurant or another location where your card is away from you and the information could be skimmed.
Recovering from Identity Theft
Even when you make an effort to protect yourself, you still may find yourself a victim. Thieves are sophisticated and can use even small amounts of information to steal your identity. Check your credit reports regularly for accounts you don’t recognize and be ready to take action immediately if you notice something is wrong. File a police report to document the identity theft and contact the involved credit reporting agencies and financial companies right away to begin resolving the problem.