One of the biggest challenges in preventing identity theft is that you as a consumer have little control over how others manage and protect your personal information.
But that doesn’t mean you should be helpless or hopeless. Make these simple suggestions part of your everyday routines and you should be able to minimize your exposure.
Monitor or freeze your credit
Most thieves head straight for your credit, and usually to open new lines of credit or apply for loans. Monitoring your credit reports will give you early warning. Freezing your credit reports will stop them in their tracks.
Guard your mail
Collect it as soon as it arrives each day. Take your mail to the Post Office instead of leaving it out to be collected. Switch to online accounts to reduce the amount of mail you receive. And watch out for strangers in your neighborhood.
Stop clicking on stuff
Resist the temptation to click on links in emails or attachments to emails. Way too often those links are used to hide malware that can quickly take over your computer.
Keep your computers and devices updated
Much of today’s malware works by simply taking advantage of vulnerabilities in common software, like browsers, that should have been updated. Setting your devices to update software automatically can stop most of those attacks.
Be careful where you surf and what you download
Hackers now hide their malware in compromised websites, and all you have to do to be infected is to visit those websites. So stay away!
Check your statements
The more diligent you are about checking your bank and credit card statements, the more likely you are to discover if someone has your account information and is committing fraud.
Use credit cards, not debit cards
If thieves compromise your debit or ATM card, and especially with your PIN too, they can quickly empty your bank account. And while you should get your money back, it could take a while. Credit cards carry far less risk.
Be miserly with your information
The less you share about yourself, the less information others will have that can be compromised. So the next time someone asks you for a Social Security Number, date of birth, or email address, ask them if they really need it.
Talk to other family members
It only takes one weak link. So make sure you educate all family members about the risks of identity theft, how it can happen, and the good habits they need to practice.
Be careful on social networks
Social networks are a favorite haunt for hackers and scammers who can use them to find incredibly detailed information about you, your family and friends, your work and social life and so on. So mind what you say and share, and make sure your privacy and security settings are set to the max.
Protect your home
Identity theft is the new burglary. Burglars know that information like Social Security Numbers, birth certificates, and tax returns are far more valuable than your brand new 60” TV. And a lot easier to haul away. Burglars also don’t like to spend a lot of time in a home so hide your personal information where it’s not easy for them to find.
Be careful when you’re traveling
Like we said earlier, thieves and scammers are everywhere, and identity theft is not just a U.S. problem. When you travel, bring as little personal information as possible, guard your wallet or purse, and avoid using guest computers at hotels – they can often be infested with nasty malware.
Get serious about passwords
Your password may still be your only defense, and especially for things like email and bank accounts. So get serious about them. Make them long and complicated, unique to each site or account, and guarded at all times.
Watch out for free Wi-Fi
There's so much free Wi-Fi these days, we often take it for granted. But Wi-Fi that's open to the public is also open to hackers, who can easily hang out nearby and eavesdrop on everything you're doing.