In 2015, more than three million identity theft victims saw $15 billion drained from their bank, credit card, and other accounts. That is more than $35,000 stolen per minute! With roughly 7 in 100 Americans falling prey to identity theft each year, you probably know someone who has dealt with this nightmare themselves. The best way to deal with identity theft is to prevent it in the first place. Following these seven steps will help you keep your money out of the hands of the bad guys.
1. Invest in a Quality Shredder
The quest to protect your identity starts at home. Every piece of mail, financial statement, and document that has your name and address should go through the shredder. Even if it doesn’t have your social security number, your name and address together can be used for identity theft.
You can pick up a quality shredder at stores like Walmart, Target, Costco, or Amazon. The top seller at Amazon is a six sheet crosscut shredder for about $30.
2. Improve Your Passwords with LastPass
The internet can be a place to safely store and access your information. It can also be an easy target for identity thieves if you don’t take steps to protect yourself. While it sounds like a chore, you should use unique, completely random passwords at every single website you access. If you do, a breach at one website will not leak your login information for every site you use.
It is impossible to remember random passwords for every site, but a quality password manager makes it simple and syncs your passwords across your devices with one master password, the only password you have to remember. LastPass is one of the most popular password managers available today. It is free to use on desktop computers and costs $12 per year for the premium version which includes Android and iPhone apps.
3. Add Your Credit Report to Your Calendar
The government knows that identity theft is an issue and requires that the three major credit reporting bureaus each provide you with a free copy of your credit report each year. The official government website for your free credit report is annualcreditreport.com.
A lot of people don’t realize that you don’t have to get the three credit reports all at once. To give yourself the best protection, you can spread out your reports from Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion throughout the year. If you get one on January 1st, one on May 1st, and one on September 1st, you can check your credit report every four months to make sure there is nothing unexpected on your report.
4. Sign Up for Free Credit Monitoring
Checking your credit report for errors and issues every four months is an important step to make sure your credit is secure for the long-term, but knowing when there is a change on your credit report immediately can help you cut off problems before they balloon out of control. Waiting after an identity theft issue starts can cost you more hours and more money than a quick response.
Previously mentioned LastPass offers free credit monitoring to users. Another great option is CreditKarma, which offers a free credit score and free credit monitoring. After signing up, you’ll get an email each time a change is detected on your credit report. New accounts, closed accounts, and paid accounts, all trigger an email alert. Most of the time it will be because of activity you did yourself.
However, if a bad guy does something, you’ll be alerted and can act right away.
5. Safeguard Your Paper Mail
Your mailbox is another major vulnerability for identity theft. Savvy identity thieves cruise through middle class and wealthy neighborhoods looking for unlocked mailboxes in the afternoon. Grabbing a bank statement or credit card statement from the mailbox, or even an advertisement with your name and address, is enough to cause plenty of damage. Here are a few ideas to safeguard your mail.
Go Paperless – Going paperless doesn’t just help the environment, it helps you. If your bank, investment, and credit card statements are not in the mail, they can’t be stolen from the mail. Thanks to your newly strengthened passwords, your information is much safer online than in hard copy format.
Watch for Missing Mail – Identity thieves can fill out a simple form online for $1 at the post office website to forward your mail to a new address. If your mail stops showing up and you didn’t submit a vacation request, contact your local post office to find out what’s going on.
Lock Your Mailbox – Unlocked mailboxes are easy targets. When you are not home, one piece of stolen mail might not be noticed but can cause havoc. A locked mailbox gives you one more layer of protection against identity theft.
6. Protect Your Social Security Number
Your social security number is the key to opening new accounts under your name. With your name, address, phone number, and social security number, identity thieves can open a host of accounts under your name in just a few minutes online.
By the time you find out what happened, your credit score could be ruined and you could find yourself spending hours and money working on restoring your name and credit. While you are not liable for fraud, getting fraudulent accounts removed from your credit report takes a lot of work. Some victims find themselves struggling for years to get everything fixed and have to put a lock on their credit to prevent new accounts from being added.
Rather than deal with this headache, take proactive steps to protect your social security number. Do not carry your social security card in your wallet. Do not readily give out your social security number. Keep it locked away and only share with your employer, financial institutions, healthcare providers, and higher education institutions to keep your credit safe.
7. Get Educated About the Latest Identity Theft Scams
All of this work to protect your identity is important, but if you fall victim to a scam it could all be for nothing. Online, on the phone, and in-person scams can be very convincing. Knowing what to look out for can help you avoid phishing, spoofing, and other identity theft methods.
The Federal Trade Commission and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau offer free resources to help you stay one step ahead of the bad guys. Knowing what to look out for gives you a big advantage in keeping your credit, finances, and future safe from identity theft.
Have you ever experiences identity theft? What do you wish you knew? Share with our users below!