Protecting yourself against identity theft is largely a matter of understanding how the iniquitous gain access to your personally identifiable information and taking steps to make doing so as difficult as humanly possible.
Far too many people are operating under the premise it can’t happen to them, even while more than 167,000 people reported a fraudulent credit card account was opened with their information in 2019.
Here’s what you can do to avoid becoming one of them.
Get Serious About Passwords
Using the same string of characters for all of your password-protected activity? You might as well go without passwords altogether. Everything you hold dear will be laid bare, the moment a nefarious operator figures it out.
Startlingly, Experian reports 50 percent of all Americans do not password protect their devices. A full 23 percent of those people say it’s too much trouble, while another 25 percent say passwords aren’t necessary. Meanwhile, these same people lock their homes when they go out and make sure their car doors are locked whenever they park.
In other words, they’re affording their homes and cars more consideration than that which can be used to get both — their credit.
Passwords should be at least eight characters in length, comprised of a combination of numbers, letter and the characters above the numbers on your keyboard. You should also use a different password everywhere they’re needed.
Monitor Your Credit Report Regularly
You can get a free copy of each one of your three credit reports every year at AnnualCreditReport.com. The best way to use the service is to request them one at a time every four months. This way you’ll monitor them more frequently and still at no charge.
Always be on the lookout for unfamiliar transactions. Pay careful attention to the balances reported on your credit accounts. There have been instances of mysterious charges showing up on cards that should have zero balances after transactions such as credit card consolidation and other payoff activities.
Be Careful on the Internet
Got an email telling you a credit card has expired and you need to update the data? Don’t use the link in the message, go to the official website of the entity in question and check the status of your account. You’ll often find the card doesn’t need updating. Instead, somebody is trying to trick you into providing your credit card information.
Do not type your username and password into an unfamiliar-looking log-in screen without doing some additional checking to be sure that data is going where you need it to go. Similarly, hover over a link in an email, newsletter or on a website so you can read the URL before clicking it.
Treat your Personal Information like Money
Given your Social Security number, date of birth, address and full legal name, anyone can gain access to your credit — period. Calls requesting that information should be treated like malevolent acts because they usually are.
Legitimate organizations will not call out of the blue requesting it. Ask for the caller’s name and direct phone number if you do get such a call. Then hang up and call back using the phone number on a bill or statement you’ve received directly from that organization.
And oh, by the way, the IRS does not ever phone people for information, they send anxiety inducing letters. One more thing, leave your Social Security card at home in a safe place where it’s unlikely to be run across in day-to-day activity.
Simply put, protecting yourself against identity theft is largely a matter of exercising vigilance over the dissemination of your personal data. Being paranoid doesn’t mean people aren’t out to get you — because guess what?