ID theft gets a lot of attention, but the truth is, it touches far fewer people than the hype would leave you to believe.
While most people are only familiar with people stealing identities to apply for credit cards in your name, it can get a lot nastier than that. Imagine someone using your name to rack up medical bills, acquire prescription drugs, transfer the title of your home, acquire a line of credit, buy a car, tap into your social security, and the list goes on!
Regardless there are some very simple, free strategies to significantly reduce the risk of having your identity stolen in the first place.
Protect Your Identity Online
1. Use passwords and logins to gain access to your computer, Ipad and phones. If you lose your phone, the last thing you want is for a thief to have access to a treasure trove of personal data.
2. Use different passwords for each device and website.
3. Use two step authentications for your banking, email and e-commerce sites
4. Keep an eye out for phishing scams. These would be emails that look like they come from your bank, e-bay or amazon, but in reality are just trying to collect your login, password, credit card or bank account information.
5. Use antivirus software to prevent, detect and remove malware, spyware and hackers from gaining access to your computer.
Protect Your Identity Offline
6. Store your mail in a secure place. ID thieves love to comb through your mail and acquire information from government and bank statements.
7. Shred sensitive documents. Garbage holds a treasure trove of information. Again, any documents containing your name, address, social security number, credit card numbers, bank account numbers, etc… should be shredded.
Stay Alert – Limit The Damage
8. Review your bank and credit card statements. If someone accessed your credit or debit card, or your line of credit, reviewing your bank statements will help you stop a bad situation from getting worse. The good news, if you find nefarious activity, your credit card company is responsible for all unauthorized charges and the FDIC insures you for up to $100,000 if someone withdraws money from your account.
9. Get mobile alerts. Instead of waiting for a monthly statement, get alerted any time someone makes a purchase on your credit card or from your checking account. You can even set-up some accounts so you can approve each transaction over a certain dollar value.
10. Review your credit report. You have the right to a free copy of your credit report from Equifax.com, TransUnion.com or Experian.com. This will alert you to anyone applying for, or having been approved for, a new loan outside of your current bank.
11. Verify your mailing address with your financial institutions, the US Postal service and the IRS. This will ensure no one has redirected your mail to hide illicit activity.
12. Set-up fraud alerts. This is a free service provided by each credit bureau. Request the service from either of Equifax, TransUnion or Experian and they will forward the request to the other agencies.
Check Yourself Out Periodically
13. Audit your public footprint to ensure no one has stolen your identity. In addition to checking the credit bureaus, check the following:
a. Your health insurance provider to review your claims
b. Social Security at ssa.gov to ensure your earnings history matches your actual earnings.
c. MIB consumer file, used by U.S. and Canadian life insurers to decide whether and how much, to charge for your life insurance. Contains a list of your medical conditions, hazardous hobbies and driving records. Call 866-692-6901 or visit mib.com and go to the bottom of the page to request a copy of your consumer file.
d. Your driving record