Identity theft is nothing new, and yet millions of people are affected each year. The Federal Trade Commission released a survey showing that 27.3 million Americans have been victims of identity theft in the last five years, including 9.9 million people in the last year alone. Thankfully there are many things you can do to avoid identity theft! The bad news is, many of us do little beyond choosing a decent password and what’s even crazier, is that some people don’t even do that! Get smart and protect yourself! Below is a list of easy targets for identity thieves and ways you can prevent it from happening to you!
1. Your Trash Can
Even if you’re really careful about the information you put online, your trash bags and recycling bin can still be an easy target for identity thieves. Dumpster diving may sound ridiculous, but it’s still an easy way for identity thieves to get access to your personal information.
- Get a shredder and use it! Get into the habit of shredding things like bank statements, expired credit cards, utility bills, cell phone bills, pay stubs, old boarding passes and travel itineraries, ATM receipts and anything with your social security number on it.
- Don’t forget to check your envelopes! Anything with your name and address on it needs to be shredded, too.
2. Your Phone
Chances are you’re carrying a lot more in your phone than just your contacts. With smartphone theft on the rise, protect yourself:
- Have a password-protected lock on your home screen. This is a standard feature on all smartphones for a reason, so take advantage of it! Bonus points if your smartphone also has a location tracking (also known as the “find my phone” feature).
- Public Wi-Fi networks are not secure, so avoid checking your bank accounts or doing your online shopping from the local coffee shop or during your layover at the airport.
- Do not store sensitive information on your phone–storing passwords or login information in a note taking app is bad news.
3. The Pin Pad
It seems like every few months a new point-of-purchase scheme emerges– skimming devices, keystroke loggers, ATM hacking… the list goes on! Here are some good practices for when you’re out and about:
- When making a purchase, keep your debit or credit card in sight at all times.
- Use your hand to block the buttons when entering your pin number, even if there’s no one immediately behind you–a camera can always be watching.
- Choose a good PIN. Avoid PINs derived from your personal information, like your telephone number, address, or birthday. Avoid easy-to-guess pins, like the dreaded “1234.”
- Change up your PIN, especially if you use the same combination to unlock your phone as you do for your debit card.
4. Your Mail Box
Like the dumpster-diving approach mentioned above, mail tampering is a low tech but relatively easy way for identity thieves to compromise your personal information. Here’s what you can do:
- Familiarize yourself with your billing cycles. A late credit card statement or a bill that never shows up could be a sign of mail tampering.
- Identity thieves will sometimes request a change of address to illegally reroute your mail to a different location. If you suddenly stop receiving mail, check with the post office to make sure this isn’t the case.
- Use a mailbox with a locking system to avoid thieves.
5. Your Computer
You think this one would be common sense by now, but every so often a virus or scam comes along that trips us up. Stay one step ahead of scammers:
- Keep your firewall, anti-virus and operating system software up to date. No matter how new and fast your laptop is, it still needs protection.
- Enable spam filters on your email accounts.
- Look out for sketchy links and emails. Ignore any suspicious password reset requests, unexpected mail tracking numbers, or anything that asks for your personal information over email.
- Don’t over share on social media. Do your Facebook friends really need to know your home address, cell phone number or even what year you were born? Can people tell when no one is home based on your social media feed? Keep your accounts private and make sure you’re not accidentally broadcasting sensitive information.
Do you have any identity theft stories to tell or tips to prevent it? If so please share with us in a comment below!
Until Next Time,