These days, identity theft continues to be a problem that both individuals and businesses are struggling to overcome. The consequences of identity theft can leave one picking up the bill for the expensive extravagances of the thief. Common items purchased through identity theft include home loans, car loans, and even credit cards. Further, extreme identity thieves could even take assets out of bank accounts, commit crimes in another person’s name, or damage one’s reputation. For this reason, it is important for individuals and even businesses today to understand what they need to do in order to prevent these challenges. This article will give advice on how to prevent identity theft and the pit falls that come with it.
1. Don’t Give out Social Security Number
To fight identity theft, one of the most important things that people need to do is to avoid giving out their Social Security number. Identity thieves will need this information in order to open new accounts, take out loans, and do transactions in your name. From time to time, individuals may be asked to give out this information. However, those that want to avoid identity theft shouldn’t give this out unless it is absolutely necessary. Always ask why and verify the identity of the other party before handing out this personally identifiable information.
2. View Emails with Skepticism
Another common source of identity theft is scams through email. These may come looking very legitimate and can fool even the most experienced experts. Whenever an email is asking for personally identifiable information, one should never respond directly to the email. Instead, give the company or individual a call to confirm that the email is legitimate before proceeding. Never send a Social Security number through email.
3. Secure Online Accounts
Most people have hundreds or even thousands of accounts that they have opened over the years online. Unfortunately, these can give identity thieves clues that they need in order to steal one’s identity. For this reason, it is important that passwords used on these accounts are unique and difficult to crack. Since it is possible that the account could be compromised, passwords should never be the same for all accounts. This is one of the easiest ways you can help prevent identity theft from occurring.
4. Update Digital Devices
Many security vulnerabilities in operating systems or software can give technically savvy hackers the ability to extract sensitive information. Even if these individuals don’t plan to use this themselves, they can still sell it on the black market for a quick profit. For this reason, those who want to avoid identity theft should always change passwords on a regular basis.
5. Activate Credit Card Alerts
Many credit card companies today offer alerts that individuals can use to notify them of unusual activity. Since identity theft might occur quickly, simply waiting for the monthly bill to come is most likely insufficient. Instead, individuals should give their credit card company a call to see what types of security services they offer in case these cards are compromised. Many credit card companies offer guarantees in the case of fraud, but it is not uncommon that the user could still be liable for certain types of identity theft.
6. Shred Important Documents
Another one of the most common ways that identity theft happens is through discarded documents. Most people and even businesses throw away their documents without shredding them, assuming that nothing will happen. Unfortunately, many identity thieves exploit this as an opportunity to uncover accounts and personal information. Since most trash is put at the end of the driveway for pickup, it is not uncommon for this to be intercepted by nefarious individuals.
7. Freeze Credit Reports
Most of the major credit reporting agencies allow individuals to freeze their credit reports to prevent unauthorized access. A credit report freeze forces those who wish to run a credit report to ask the credit recipients to temporarily suspend freezes so that a report can be run. This makes it nearly impossible for someone to have their identity stolen, since it is unlikely that the identity thief will ask the victim for this information. All four of the top credit reporting agencies offer this service, and it should be utilized by those that truly want to eliminate the risk of identity theft.
8. Don’t Listen to IRS Scams
While it might be possible that the IRS could contact individuals through the phone, they always send a notification through the mail first. Individuals who receive an alleged notice from the IRS either by phone or email should be very skeptical. If a person gets a call asking for this type of information, they should hang out and call the IRS directly. If the individual is really subject to issues related to their tax return, a representative from the IRS should be able to help confirm that this is true.
9. Protection Plans
There are a number of excellent identity theft protection services that will monitor your credit reports, social security number, bank accounts and credit cards for signs of identity theft and fraud. These services generally cost $15.00 – $30.00 / month. If any suspicious activity is detected on your monitored accounts, you receive an immediate alert so you can investigate the cause. For more information on identity theft protection, see our review page here.
9. Lock Your Mailbox
Most cities allow individuals to get mailboxes that have individualized keys. Mail carriers simply use the key received from the homeowner to deposit mail. Another option is to get a mailbox that just has a small opening, rather than an easy to open door that identity thieves can exploit. This can make mail delivery much safer and protect against identity thieves looking to steal your mail.
10. Watch Your Online Profile
A great wealth of knowledge can be obtained about individuals by doing a simple online search. Those who want to protect themselves from identity theft should search themselves and request that personal information be removed.