Tips for Protecting Yourself Against Identity Thieves
Many people have adopted the "that could never happen to me" attitude when it comes to identity theft. But, as more and more of us store data and do business online, we need to recognize that nearly every one of us is a potential victim. Meanwhile, those in the business of stealing our sensitive and personal information continue to develop cutting-edge technology to help them retrieve it. So it is essential to do everything we can to protect ourselves.
The stark reality
In 2015, the Federal Trade Commission reported that 16 percent of all inquiries it received were related to identity theft. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, households that make more than $70,000 per year are twice as likely to be victims of identity theft as households with incomes less than $50,000. And adults aren't the only targets; children can fall victim to identity theft as well. According to the credit monitoring service Debix, 10 percent of U.S. children have had their social security numbers stolen; and, in many cases, it takes years for parents to realize that a child's information has been compromised.
What can you do?
Although the fight against data crooks may seem daunting, there are steps you can take to protect yourself and your family against these criminals.
- Ensure that all your online accounts are protected by strong passwords and that your security questions have strong, unsearchable answers. Your Facebook and personal e-mail accounts, for example, contain information that can be used against you by a hacker. With a little Internet-based research and a few educated guesses, a hacker can arrive at answers to your password or security questions, get into your accounts, and find enough information to steal your identity.
- Follow safe credit card practices. Write down all of your credit card information and store it in a secure place. This way, if a card is stolen or lost, you'll have all of the contact information you need to cancel it. And, of course, always know where your credit cards are. The moment you can't find a card, do not hesitate to cancel it. The risks associated with a missing card are far too serious.
- Make online purchases only using your credit card. By making purchases with a credit card, you can dispute the charges if you can prove that you did not make the purchases.
- Make online purchases only through secure sites. Never make credit card purchases from unsecured websites whose addresses begin with the letters “http.” Instead, look for secure sites, which begin with “https.” Some Internet browsers also have a lock feature you can activate to ensure that your information is safely transmitted.
- Keep a close eye on all of your financial accounts. Regularly check your accounts, and always call customer service as soon as you discover any suspicious activity or transactions that you do not recognize—no matter how small!
- Keep a close eye on personal documents. Just because social security cards are conveniently sized for a wallet doesn't mean that they belong there. Do not keep social security information on your person, where it could easily be lost or stolen. Also, be sure to shred documents that you no longer use. Old credit cards, bank statements, and cash advance applications should all be destroyed.
- Question anyone who solicits your personal information. Ask as many questions as necessary to satisfy yourself that the request is legitimate. Always verify that the sender of an e-mail asking for personal information is who he or she claims to be and not an impersonator. If someone requests personal information over the phone, you can always hang up, look up the phone number of the business or organization that he or she purports to be calling from, and dial that number directly to verify the caller's identity.
- Take advantage of FACTA. The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) requires each of the three major credit monitoring agencies—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—to offer consumers a free report once per year. This means that you can conduct a credit check every four months. We recommend performing a minimum of three credit checks each year. For even more protection, consider purchasing credit monitoring.
Although following the basic measures outlined here can help protect you from identity thieves, it's essential to be proactive in safeguarding your personal information. For more tips on keeping your identity safe, visit the Federal Trade Commission's identity theft website.
© 2017 Commonwealth Financial Network