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It’s true… identity theft can happen to any of us at any time. That’s why today I want to share some easy tips for How to Protect Yourself From Identity Theft!
Now I’m no stranger to the problems that come from being a victim of identity theft. Those crazy thieves just keep coming up with new tricks, and data breaches now seem to be as common as a rainy day in Seattle. That’s why I want to share some practical tips with you for how to protect yourself from identity theft.
While it’s impossible to totally eliminate the risk of identity theft, you might be surprised at just how much you can do to safeguard yourself. From locking your credit to strengthening your passwords, there really are so many measures you can take to lower your risk!
Following are a just a few of my favorite tips you can use to help protect yourself from identity theft! Let’s get started…
How to Protect Yourself From Identity Theft
#1: Give Your Information Out Cautiously
Have you noticed how frequently cashiers will request your phone number or email address when you are checking out at a store? In most cases you’ll receive no benefit by providing this information. The store is likely directing it’s employees to collect this information solely for their benefit and analyzing marketing trends and demographic data. So before you give out any extra information at the checkout, make sure it will actually benefit you! When it comes to protecting your identity, the less personal information you give out, the better!
#2: Never Give Out Your Social Security Number
It’s actually a really good idea to be stingy about giving people your social security number. There are some legitimate times when your social security number is actually required, like when you’re filling out a loan or credit card application, or when you’re applying for a job. However, in almost all other circumstances your social security number is not actually required and you don’t need to provide it.
For instance, I never provide my social security number on the forms you fill out at the doctor or dentist. If someone does insist you provide your social security number, first try to politely decline. If necessary, you can also offer to provide another form of identification they might accept. Remember, it’s always better to provide as little information as possible when you’re trying to protect your identity.
When your social security number falls into the wrong hands, it can be particularly devastating. Someone once got a hold of my husband’s social security number and actually opened up a credit card in his name. The guy then racked up over $35,000 in charges under my husband’s name. We didn’t even know anything was wrong until the bank came calling my hubby asking for payment. Yikes… that was a fun one getting cleared up with the bank.
So be especially protective of your social security number. Never give it out unless absolutely necessary. Also, be careful to take extra measures to protect your social security number. Consider memorizing it so you never have to carry your Social Security card in your wallet.
#3: Take a Picture of Everything In Your Wallet
If your purse or wallet gets stolen, the first thing you’ll want to do is to call up your bank and credit card companies to notify them. You may even need to file a police report. However, at that point it can be tricky to remember everything you even had in your wallet. So take some easy steps today to make sure you have a record of everything in your wallet. I recommend taking a picture of each item you have in your wallet… credit cards, debit cards, medical cards, etc. Be sure to take a picture of the front and back, so you’ll have easy access to the phone numbers you’ll need to call to notify the businesses as well.
Also consider leaving your checkbook at home. I once had my purse stolen, and my checkbook was in it. The girl that stole it treated herself to a nice little food extravaganza using my checks… including a grocery store run and a stop at the pizza restaurant. So unless I need it for some very specific reason, my checkbook always stays at home now.
#4: Never Let Your Credit Card Out of Your Sight
Do you ever dine at a sit down restaurant where the waiter takes your card away? Trust me… never let your card leave your sight. Instead, just pay with cash!
I’ve actually had my credit card information stolen at a sit down restaurant. Think about it. You’re giving your credit card to a perfect stranger that walks completely out of view with your card in their hand! Now most servers are truly wonderful people, but there are always a few that may not be so honest. If a waiter has your credit card, it’s so easy for them to make a copy of your credit card number, security code and even a copy of your signature. Think about it… to get your credit card info, a waiter can simply take out their phone and quickly snap a photo of both sides of your credit card. Scary, right?
So now when I know I am going to a sit down restaurant, I make sure to take plenty of cash. I also make sure to include smaller bills to help make change and to cover the tip. The fraud risk is simply too great, and after what happened, the risk of using a credit card just isn’t worth it to me.
#5: Be Careful at the Cash Machine
Peek-a-boo… who’s watching you? When using a cash machine, be aware of your surroundings. The last thing you want is for someone to see you type in your pin number while getting cash out. For even more privacy, consider using the drive thru cash machine rather than the stand-up ones. This will allow you to keep a greater distance between yourself and others. Being friendly is great… just not when you’re using a cash machine! No peeking!
Also, consider never (or just rarely) using your debit card in public. If a scammer can get ahold of your debit card number and pin, they can also get direct access to your bank accounts. Yikes!!
#6: Watch for Skimmers at the Gas Pump
Yes… I’ve been a victim of this scam as well. I was at a gas station on a road trip just outside of L.A., and a skimmer read my credit card when I prepaid for gas at the pump. I had no idea until after it happened… it was just a small hidden device I never would have noticed. After this happened, I tried to learn more about it. I really never wanted this to happen again. What I learned was that while it’s impossible to totally avoid a credit card skimmer at the gas pump, there were a few things we can do to lower our risk.
When getting gas, I try to always use a pump that is clearly visible to the employees working at the gas station. Less visible gas pumps are more likely to have a credit card skimmer. Then I check to see if there are any hidden cameras or any loose parts by the actual credit card reader at the pump. I also never pay using a debit card. If my card was ever skimmed again, I would never want to risk letting someone gain direct access to my bank accounts. If you want to avoid using both your credit and debit card when paying at the pump, you might consider paying for your gas using a Free Gas Gift Card!
One extra step you should consider is activating any fraud alerts available from your credit card company. It was a fraud alert from my credit card company that alerted me to the fact that I had been a victim of a gas pump credit card skimmer. The thief quickly started using my information to make a variety of small purchases at convenience stores. Thankfully, my credit card company quickly reversed the fraudulent charges and issued me a new card. My hope for you is that you never encounter a credit card skimmer. But just in case, please stay alert and cautious when paying for gas at the pump!
#7: Keep an Eye on Your Mail
If you’ve ever lost an important piece of mail, or had your mail stolen, you’ll love this simple tip.
Did you know that the Post Office will actually send you a daily email with an image of all the mail that will be delivered to your mailbox? To get this email, simply sign up for Informed Delivery by USPS on the USPS.com site. Talk about an easy way to keep track of your daily mail!
#8: Shred, Shred, Shred!
After opening your mail, and before you toss it in the recycling bin, be sure to remove your name and address from any envelopes, magazines, etc.. Then shred, shred, shred that personal information! Shredders can be inexpensive, and are such an important investment when it comes to protecting your personal information!
Criminals have no problem digging through your garbage and recycling cans. Seriously, I’ve actually seen them in the act right from my front window!
#9: Keep a Close Eye on Your Credit Card Statements
Once while my husband was reviewing our credit card statement, he noticed a $1,500 charge at the AT&T store a few days before Christmas. The problem was… we’ve never shopped at the AT&T store. In fact, we use a different phone carrier entirely. Thankfully Visa and the card issuing bank were really good about reversing all the fraudulent charges, and a new credit card was promptly mailed to us.
We learned from this incident to always closely monitor all of our accounts. Every month, we log into all of our credit card and bank accounts at least one time to review all the activity for each account. We make sure to even check on the credit card and bank accounts we are not using regularly. Closely watching your accounts will also help you Organize and Pay Bills on Time!
#10: Check Your Credit Reports Regularly
By regularly reviewing your credit, you’ll likely be able to catch identity theft more quickly. So in addition to frequently monitoring your credit card and bank accounts, be sure to also keep a close eye on your credit report. You’ll want to make sure there are no errors in your credit history or your personal information. You’ll also want to check to see if there are any negative items being reported on your credit report.
Did you know it’s actually really easy to get a copy of your credit report? Simply go to AnnualCreditReport.com and request a free copy. Be sure to request a copy of your credit report from each of the major credit reporting agencies: TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian. The different credit reporting agencies may report different information, so you’ll need to review all three reports.
Did you find any problems or incorrect information on your credit report? Don’t worry, this is common and there are some really helpful tools available from CreditRepair.com to help clean up your credit score!
They will help make sure items in your credit report are substantiated, relevant, accurate and reported fairly. If items in your credit history are incorrect, they will work hard with you to get them corrected and to defend your financial reputation! To learn more, go check out CreditRepair.com.
#11: Consider Freezing or Locking Your Credit
My husband and I both locked down our credit when our information was compromised after a recent large scale data breach. For us, this was a simple yet effective way to protect our credit. Having our credit locked makes it harder for people to impersonate us when attempting to open a new account. Plus, there is no longer any cost associated with locking or unlocking our credit when needed. In fact, a new law was passed making it free to lock or unlock your credit in all states… score!! That means you can also lock and unlock your credit for free!
Due to the increased risk of identity theft from the recent data breaches, we also have an identity theft insurance policy. If your information has ever been compromised, you may also want to consider getting an identity theft insurance policy to help protect yourself and your family.
#12: Password Protect Your Laptop and Your Smartphone
With so much sensitive data stored on laptops and smartphones, make sure you password protect both devices! I personally use a password to protect both my laptop and my iPhone. For my laptop, I use a login password and also a screen saver password. For my iPhone, I recently upgraded my 4-digit password to a stronger 6-digit password. To make the iPhone password even stronger, I used a unique-to-me word to create a numeric password. While you’re updating your phone to create a stronger 6-digit password, be sure to also read these tips for How to Save Money on Your Cell Phone Bill!
#13: Strengthen Your Online Passwords
There’s really no way to make a foolproof password, but these tips may help. When it comes to passwords, the general consensus from larger online email providers is that a strong password needs to be both long and complex. So what I like to do is use a combination of capital letters, lower case letters, numbers, and symbols. Also remember to never use personal information like your birthdate, phone number or Zip code.
To create a longer password that isn’t too difficult to remember, I try to use 2-4 long words in the form of a memorable phrase. Then, I will sprinkle in some capitals, numbers and symbols throughout the phrase.
Also, make sure you don’t keep using the same password over and over again for multiple sites. Almost all large online email providers agrees this is a bad idea. You want to change your password up and use a unique password for everything. Make sure when you’re creating a new password to be creative and make it unique. You don’t want your new password to be too similar to previous passwords.
Are you concerned about how you’ll be able to remember so many different passwords? Consider keeping a master log of all your passwords on your password protected computer. This will give you convenient access to your passwords in one secure location.
When it comes to passwords, some are even more important than others. Passwords that might deserve extra attention are your email and social media passwords. For instance, if your email gets hacked an intruder can use your email address to reset passwords on your other online accounts. To add an extra layer of security to your accounts, consider setting up 2-factor authentication for all of your email and social media accounts if possible. It’s such a simple way to add another layer of protection to your accounts.
#14: Change Your Passwords Every 6 Months
To help make your passwords even more secure, it’s also a good idea to change your password frequently. To save time, I usually try to change multiple passwords at the same time. First, I use my password log to look up my old password. Then, I replace the old password on my log with the new password I’ve just created. When online, your password is often your first line of defense. A strong password can help protect you from identity theft. So take some time today to make sure your passwords are really protecting you!
I hope these tips can help you better know how to protect yourself from identity theft. But remember, they are also just a start. If you want to know more about how to protect yourself from identity theft, check out the identitytheft.gov website.
Whatever you do, protect your personal information diligently, be savvy when using the cash machine, and be careful when you’re online!