No doubt you've heard about how significant an issue identity theft is. Perhaps you've even read some of the horror stories that people go through to try and reclaim their identity and re-establish their financial and credit profiles after being victimized. Often the amount of time, money, and frustration associated with getting things on track is staggering. The best way to avoid having to deal with this is simply to avoid being a victim in the first place. Below, I've listed some of the easiest ways to prevent yourself from becoming a victim. Routinely following these steps will make it infinitely more difficult for shady characters to gain access to your personal data. Remember, many of these people are very creative and think differently than most folks. They are always looking for new angles to exploit in order to take advantage of anyone whose mind isn't as duplicitous as theirs.
- Safeguard your personal information: Do not share your personal information such as your social security number, date of birth, or financial information with anyone unless it is necessary. Keep important documents in a safe place, such as a locked drawer or safe. When those documents become outdated, SHRED THEM!! Even deceased family members can become victims, adding more pain to a recent loss.
- Be wary of phishing scams: Phishing scams are fraudulent attempts to obtain sensitive information, such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details. Be cautious of emails or messages from unknown sources, and do not click on links or download attachments from suspicious emails. Many times, these scams seem completely legitimate. I recommend going to the business' actual website and reaching out to the contact details found there to confirm the message if you have something that doesn't "smell" right.
- Use strong passwords: Create strong passwords that are difficult to guess, and use different passwords for different accounts. Avoid using personal information such as your name or date of birth in your password. Change the passwords frequently. While this can be a hassle, it is much easier than dealing with identity theft. If you need assistance (I certainly do) remembering all those unique passwords, I recommend a password manager. A password manager is a program that will store all of your unique usernames and passwords, securely, and you can access it with only 1 password. There are several benefits to trying one and I suggest a google search of "password manager" to find good options and more info.
- Check your credit report: Review your credit report regularly to ensure that there are no unauthorized accounts or transactions. You can request a free credit report once a year from each of the three major credit reporting agencies at https://www.annualcreditreport.com Checking your credit report may tip you off to new accounts or activity that you've never initiated. If you see any activity you didn't authorize it will give you an opportunity to catch up to an identity thief before they do more damage.
- Monitor your accounts: Keep an eye on your bank and credit card statements, and report any suspicious activity immediately. Set up alerts for any unusual transactions or account activity. With the advent of online banking, few people still balance their checkbooks. Surprisingly, most folks don't even look at their statements. You MUST look through your monthly statements at a minimum.
- Use two-factor authentication: Enable two-factor authentication for your online accounts whenever possible. This provides an additional layer of security beyond your username and password. Two-factor authentication (usually involves an e-mail or text message code) may slow things down, but it certainly prevents unauthorized access to your most important accounts and websites.
By following these steps, you can help protect yourself from identity theft and keep your personal information safe. If you have any further questions, always feel free to reach out to one of our consultants and we'll be happy to assist in any way we can!