There are many techniques used by individuals who want to steal your identity, your money – or both. Some you’ve probably heard about – like alleged IRS messages claiming you must pay back taxes immediately or face jail time. These scammers play on your emotions so you will give them what they want. Then there are thieves who may simply take your information through hacking, data breaches, or credit card theft – no direct contact with you necessary.
Fortunately, there are several proactive steps you can take to help keep your identity protected and your money where it belongs – in the green.
- Know what PII is and only give it to trusted sources when you have a reason.
- Protect yourself online.
- Get yourself a shredder – and use it.
- Opt-in to online statements instead of paper statements whenever possible.
- Enroll in email alerts to help monitor your account activity.
- Review your personal credit report at least annually.
Use your best judgment about who you can trust, and never give your PII to a source you can’t verify. Of course, a new employer will ask for banking information if they pay you using direct deposit – but you shouldn’t give that same information to a “charity” you’ve never heard of that approached you for a donation. Online, make sure websites that ask for your information use encryption – “https://” will appear at the beginning of URLs for sites that do. “S” is for “secure.” And whenever possible, try not to use public Wi-Fi for sensitive transactions as it may not always be secure.
Strong passwords are also a must-have. Many sites require a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols, and a password at least eight characters long. Resist the temptation to use memorable passwords including information like your name, birthday, pets’ names, or anything others might learn about you on social media. It’s also smart to use different passwords for different sites; if one password is compromised, the rest may still be secure.
Shred any document with account and other identifying numbers on it before throwing it away. This can help safeguard you against the professional thief who routinely goes “dumpster diving” for other people’s financial information – or the new neighbor you assumed you could trust, but is thinking about opening a credit card in someone else’s name because she has poor credit of her own.
You will receive statements more quickly, and can avoid the possible threat of having information stolen from the mail. Most financial institutions provide a paperless statement option once you are logged into your account online.
Most banks and credit card companies offer email or text alerts to help you easily monitor transactions. You’ll know quickly if a payment was made that you didn’t know about, and it can be addressed sooner.
It’s one of the smartest ways to help spot fraud. You can receive a free credit report from Experian, Equifax or TransUnion once every 12 months at www.AnnualCreditReport.com. (This is the official site to help consumers obtain a free credit report. Beware imposters.) If you notice mistakes on your credit report, contact the credit bureau and the organization that provided the information to the bureau for more information.
These are just a few ways you can help protect your identity and the financial position you’ve worked so hard to earn.