Identity (ID) theft, according to the website USA.gov (an official United States Government website), is defined as “…a crime where a thief steals your personal information, such as your full name or Social Security number, to commit fraud.” According to an online survey conducted by The Harris Poll nearly 15 million Americans had their identity stolen in 2017. Javelin Strategy & Research puts the number at 16.7 million. With the increase of commonality of this type of theft we should all take measures to prevent Identity (ID) theft. Some common types of ID theft are:
- Employment or Tax ID related theft – used to gain employment or file fraudulent tax returns
- Medical ID theft – used to gain medical services or file fraudulent claims to your health insurance provider
- Social ID theft – using your name, photos, and information on social media sites
- Child ID and Senior ID theft – children and seniors are particularly vulnerable. Children are vulnerable because typically extensive damage has been done long before the theft has been discovered. The elderly are susceptible to theft from those entrusted to care for them medically and financially.
So what steps can you take to prevent ID theft?
- Secure your Social Security Number (SSN). Never carry your SSN card with you or write the number on your checks. Only give out the number when necessary.
- Store your personal information in a safe place.
- Never respond to unsolicited requests for personal information via phone, mail, or online.
- Be careful with how much personal information you share on social media. Those fun copy and paste quizzes that you share with your friends can potentially contain valuable information, often times answers to “secret questions” to either verify your password/identity or help you retrieve a lost password. For example, mother’s maiden name, where you were married, first pet’s name, etc. It’s also a good idea to not reveal upcoming vacations or periods of extended travel until after you return home.
- Shred receipts, bank statements, credit card offers, and expired credit cards to prevent dumpster divers from getting your information. You could also go as far as to shred any envelopes or mailings with your name and address on it as well.
- Do not let mail linger in your mail box. If you are going to be away for a while you can place a hold on your mail for several days.
- Know your cycles for bills and financial statements; contact the sender when they are late.
- Review your bank statements and compare transactions with your receipts or checkbook. Watch out for any unauthorized transactions.
- Enable the security features on your mobile devices, especially if you use banking apps or have bank websites saved on your device.
- Use a VPN (virtual private network) when using public Wi-Fi which can give you the security of a secured private network. Also, update your sharing and firewall settings when you do use a public Wi-Fi network.
- Install virus detection software and firewalls on your computers.
- Make your passwords complex and not easily guessed, even if someone already has some of your personal information. If a company that you do business with has a breach, be sure to change those passwords as soon as possible.
- You can contact the three major credit reporting agencies for a credit report freeze.
- Review your credit report annually. Check for errors or accounts that you have not opened. You can order your free report from Annualcreditreport.com.
Next week I’ll let you know about how to respond to ID theft. Until then, keep your information safe!