More and more people are becoming victims of identity theft and there appears to be no limit to the efforts a person will take to steal someone’s personal information. Sure there are plenty of ID theft prevention companies out there and your bank and credit card company have all approached you with their own program but what if you cannot afford it or simply don’t want to pay for this protection?
If you’re like me and are convinced the only way to do something is to do it yourself, here are nine great ways to help reduce the possibility of becoming a victim of identity theft.
9 Ways to Reduce the Risk of Identity Theft
1. Shred documents – Simply tearing up your bills, solicitations and other items is not enough. Thieves will dig in your trash, in the dump, anywhere they believe they might find some nugget of information to use for their own ill-gotten gains. You have to invest in a shredder, preferably one that does a cross-cut shred (makes confetti) rather than small segmented strips.
2. Never leave a receipt. In your vehicle, at a restaurant, a store, anywhere. Always keep your receipts and either store them safely at home or shred them. Most receipts don’t carry personal information or things an identity thief can use. However some receipts include your address, the last four of a credit card or social security number or other pieces of info that could become valuable. Make it a practice to never leave paper behind with any of your personal information on it.
3. Protect your Social Security number – If someone is requesting your social security number, bank account, or drivers license, ask them why before handing it over. Never carry your social security card with you unless you need it. Typically, the only places your social security card comes in handy is at the post-office to complete a passport application, or at the DMV. In just about any other situation, leave it at home.
4. Review credit card statements – Every month, bank and credit card statements are provided to you, free of charge. Take a minute and review them to see if you have any charges you do not recognize. If something sticks out, immediately speak with anyone else that has access to the card and if nothing comes to mind, call your bank, dispute the charge and cancel your card. A new card can be issued at no cost to you, so your account will remain open (but inaccessible with old information).
5. Create different and complex passwords for everything – One of the easiest ways for a thief to unlock your life is when they know your passwords. The problem with passwords is that if you create good ones, you don’t know them by memory. Using software like LastPass.com takes care of both creating unique passwords and storing them. Never ever write passwords down in public places and avoid creating a password that uses words, sequences or important dates in your life. The more random to you, the better.
6. Install proper firewalls – Internet security is an absolute must today. If you have a home Wi-Fi make sure it’s properly fire-walled and protected so people outside of your home can not access it. Avoid using public computers to access your personal information; especially banking information. It’s also important that you have a good spyware and virus protection software available for your home computers.
7. Avoid suspicious emails – When you receive an email asking for personal information and you don’t recognize the sender … NEVER provide that information. Check the email address to ensure the sender is who they claim to be. Email addresses that do not come from a company are an immediate delete. Do research online to see if the company emailing you is legitimate. If you have the slightest doubt about what you’ve received, do not proceed.
8. Collect mail promptly – One of the easiest ways for someone to steal your identity is to swipe important documents through the mail. DMV’s mail new driver’s licenses, the post office mails new passports and you never truly know when you’re supposed to receive them. While you may not realize it, your postal carrier has a great responsibility in your life so make friends with them, and always be sure to retrieve your mail as quickly as you can after it is delivered.
9. Review your credit report quarterly – Checking your credit report used to be expensive. Today however, you can sign up for a free credit report and score through CreditKarma.com and CreditSesame.com. Your score is updated weekly and your credit report shows all of the information you need to make sure no new accounts have been opened in your name.
If you find information on your credit report that you do not recognize, immediately call the major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, TransUnion) and ask that your credit be frozen. Being a diligent and persistent compulsive person about your identity will go a long way in preventing anyone from being able to steal it from you. You do not have to sign up with an ID theft prevention service, you just have to be very cautious and careful with your personal information and how you dispose of it when you have to.