DIY Identity Theft Protection

Identity Theft Protection

How are identities stolen?

It’s starting to seem like there are stories of hacks, security breaks, and stolen information every single day. From phone companies to financial institutions to major retailers, insecurities are nearly everywhere these days.

So how do you keep yourself safe from identity theft – even in this modern day of ever-present technology? There are some simple DIY ways to keep yourself safe from identity fraud, starting with close monitoring.

DIY Identity Theft Protection

Consumers become victims of identity theft through many types of exploits. These can happen the old fashioned ways when crooks (including family members!) steal mail from your mailbox, rummage through your trash for bills and bank statements, steal wallets and purses, or make an extra copy of your credit card – perhaps when your waiter or clerk walks off to process your payment.

Online identity theft occurs when users fall for tactics like phishing and confidence scams; or download malware onto their computers or smartphones that steals their information; use wireless networks that are insecure; take out money from an ATM that has been rigged with a skimming device that collections your information; share their passwords with untrustworthy people, or by having their information stolen when data records are breached on companies, government, and educational sites.

Key steps to preventing identity theft online:

  • Protect your computer and smartphone with strong, up-to-date security software. If your computer or phone is infected with malicious software, other safeguards are of little help because you’ve given the criminals the key to all your online actions. Also be sure that any operating system updates are installed.
  • Learn to spot spam and scams. Though some phishing scams are easy to identify, other phishing attempts in email, IM, on social networking sites, or websites can look very legitimate. The only way to never fall for phishing scam is to never click on a link that has been sent to you. For example, if the email says it’s from your bank and has all the right logos and knows your name, it may be from your bank – or it may not be. Instead of using the link provided, find the website yourself using a search engine. This way you will know you landed on the legitimate site and not some mocked up fake site.
  • Use strong passwords. Weak passwords are an identity thief’s dream – especially if you use the same password everywhere. Once the thief knows your password, they can log you’re your financial accounts and wreak havoc. You need passwords that are long (over 10 characters), strong (use upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols), and that have nothing to do with your personal information (like name, age, birthdate, pet)
  • Monitor your credit scores. By law you have the right to three free credit reports per year; from Experian, Transunion, and Equifax.
  • Review your credit score. Look too see if there are new credit cards, loans or other transactions on your account that you are not aware of. If there are, take immediate steps to have these terminated and investigated.

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Put Your Credit On Ice

Ever heard of a “credit freeze”? If not, this is your lucky day. This is an easy way to give yourself an extra level of protection from identity theft that you can establish from the comfort of your own home.

What’s the danger if your data is exposed? The fear is that once a fraudster has your Social Security number, he can apply for a credit card or a loan in your name. The lender will first take a look at your credit history. Then, if the line of credit is approved, the identity thief can run up debt in your name with no intention of paying it back. That can wreck your credit score before you even know you’ve been exposed. Having a bad credit score can make it much harder to get credit cards, loans, apartment rentals, mortgages, even jobs. And it’s not just hypothetical: According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1.1 million Americans reported that they were victims of new account identity theft in 2014.

The solution is to make it impossible for lenders to check your credit history without proof that you are the one applying for credit. That’s what a “credit freeze” does. When you freeze your credit report, you will be given a special PIN number. No one will be able to access your report without that PIN. If you want to apply for credit, you’ll have to unfreeze or “thaw” your report by providing the PIN number as proof of your identity. Without it, fraudsters won’t be able to open new lines of credit in your name.
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Have you ever been the victim of identity theft? What are you doing now to protect yourself from future attempts?

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