Learning how to prevent identity theft can save you time, money, and serious aggravation. Identity theft can happen anytime. Your personal information can be pulled from a trash can. Your credit card number can be copied by waiters at a restaurant or clerks in a department store. Most people inadvertently give away too much of their personal information on social media, allowing any thief to ‘fill in the blanks’ once they have made an ‘in’ on who you are. As vulnerable as you are, there are still ways to prevent your identity from being stolen this holiday season. It begins with you! It is up to you to monitor your financial related accounts and personal data to protect yourself and your credit.
Below are 10 useful tips to aid and protect your personal information, which can help to safeguard your identity and your credit.
1. Be sure to protect your PIN. Do this at ATM’s, gas stations, on a phone, at the grocery store, or even on a computer at work. Cover the keypad when entering your number and make sure that no one is nearby and looking over your shoulder.
2. Always require a photo ID verification. Rather than placing your signature on the back of credit cards, write “Check ID”. Though many store clerks rarely look at the signature block on the credit card, you can still direct them to verify your signature with a photo ID, e.g., a driver’s license.
3. Never leave a paper trail—shred or burn everything! Identity thieves can acquire information through “dumpster-diving”, i.e., picking through your trash. Old bills, credit card or medical statements, ATM receipts, and especially junk mail solicitations for credit cards and mortgages combined reveal your identity. Buy a personal shredder or throw the paper in the fireplace.
4. Be attentive about checking statements. Whether you receive it by mail or electronically, always check the statement. It’s a good habit to make sure that the charges, purchases or other entries on the statement are accurate and match up with your records.
5. Cut down on personal information on checks. If you are still writing checks (rather than using online bill pay), limit your personal information printed on your checks. Financial advisers recommend not printing your address or driver’s license number on the check. Only include the first initial of your name in the namespace of the check, such as “J. Smith” rather than writing out “James Smith.” In the event a check gets stolen, the thief will have very little information to steal your identity.
6. Never mail your bills from your mailbox. It’s inconvenient, but thieves raid mailboxes, and when they do, one envelope can reveal everything about you to steal your identity. Mail your bills at the post office or drop them in a U.S. Postal Service drop box.
7. Analyze your credit report each year. It used to cost money, but the law now allows everyone to get a free look at your credit report once per year. Though there are three major credit reporting agencies—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—you should avoid Equifax following their massive breach last year. Once you receive your report, go over it thoroughly to make sure the information is accurate. Be sure the accounts there are yours! And look for any suspicious activities.
8. Enroll in a credit monitoring service such as Credit Karma. Credit Karma’s offers services free to consumers, with no credit card required. Utilizing a credit monitoring service can help with protecting your identity. If you’re a Credit Karma member, consider enabling in their free credit monitoring service.
9. Protect your Social Security number. Your SSN, whether you like it or not, is your national identification number. Some financial advisers say not to carry your Social Security Card in your wallet, but to file it at home. It’s best to memorize your number for when needed. Never use your SSN, or any part of it, as a username or password, either. Never give your SSN to telephone solicitors or respond to any request for it from emails. It is more than likely a phishing scam.