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How to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft
Identity theft occurs when someone obtains your financial and personal information and uses it to commit fraud. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), out of the identity theft cases they received last year, more than 406,000 individuals reported that their information was used illegally to apply for a government benefit or document. This new data shows a significant increase from 2019, when the number was only around 23,000.
Since we live in a fast-paced and digital world, we must do our best to safeguard our private information. Here are some ways you can protect yourself and avoid becoming a victim of identity theft.
Photo credit: Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay
Recognize the signs of identity theft
To prevent your information from being compromised, you need to know the different warning signs that indicate the possibility of fraud taking place. Some of the red flags that you need to watch out for include small “test” charges or suspicious purchases on your credit card, receiving a credit card that you never applied for, undelivered or absence of financial mail, your application for a credit card or loan being rejected even with a good credit history, or receiving a call from your bank or credit card provider alerting you of suspicious activity. You must stay vigilant for any of these signs so that you can quickly act on them.
Safeguard your documents
Identity thieves will usually target your mailbox or go through your trash. Make sure to secure any sensitive documents and records that contain your personal and financial data. Your bank and credit card statements, birth certificates, social security cards, and even solicitations are security risks, especially if not properly secured. Always retrieve your mail and never leave it in the mailbox for an extended period. If you need to dispose of your documents, shred them first before throwing them in the trash. Never leave a paper trail of retail, gas station, and ATM receipts behind, as thieves are skilled at obtaining information even from the tiniest details. Always keep your receipts and destroy them once you get home.
Monitor your credit reports
Regularly review your credit reports. Check for any discrepancies and any suspicious activity. If you see new accounts opened under your name, take action immediately by alerting all of your banks and creditors and filing a dispute with the credit bureaus. US federal law mandates that you are entitled to a free credit report every 12 months from the three national credit bureaus Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. Fortunately, they have a centralized website, so you don’t need to contact them individually.
Strengthen your passwords
If you tend to use the same password for all of your devices, there’s a good chance that hackers and identity thieves can quickly obtain your login credentials, especially after a major security breach. Always change your passwords and avoid using the most obvious information such as your name, pet’s name, age, and birthdate. Create a strong password for every site, and don’t make the mistake of writing them somewhere visible. In addition, make sure to password-protect all of your devices, especially your mobile phones. Keep in mind that your personal data will easily get compromised if your devices fall into the wrong hands.
Be vigilant of phishing attempts
According to the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) report, phishing scams were prominent last year, and it was the most common cybercrime that was reported. Never click any suspicious links or emails claiming that they are coming from your bank or any financial institution. Cyber attackers are skilled in mimicking your bank’s website, and they may trick you into revealing your personal information. Some of these emails may even contain an attachment that can infect your device with malicious software when installed. If you suspect that the email is fraudulent, delete it right away, and call your financial institution and ask if they have a department that handles these types of cases.
Never give your information over the phone
Identity thieves may call you pretending to represent your credit card company or other financial institution. Remember that these financial institutions will never ask you to reveal any sensitive information over the phone. Credit card companies will usually call to confirm any suspicious purchases, but they will never ask you to reveal your social security number, PIN, or other vital details. If anyone calls you asking for your personal information, ask for their credentials and then hang up. Report it to the financial institution of which the caller claimed to be part of, but make sure to call the number listed on your bank statements. For your peace of mind, you can request for your credit card number to be changed.
Be mindful of your purchases
When making online purchases, make sure to buy only from reputable and secure sites. If you are unfamiliar with retailers you want to purchase from, check their reviews and do your research correctly. If they’re asking you to enter your social security number or date of birth, this is a big warning sign. Remember that no legitimate retailer will ask for your sensitive information, so always be vigilant with your online transactions. If you habitually buy stuff online, take the time to carefully review your credit card statements every month and be wary of any unauthorized charges.
Protect your devices
Install reliable and secure software on your computer, laptop, tablet, and mobile phone. Without a strong antivirus software, identity fraudsters can easily hijack your devices. You can also utilize a virtual private network (VPN) to protect you further when browsing the internet. Make sure also to clean malware from your computer and install any system updates. Using malware cleaners such as a Mac cleaner can help protect your computer from harmful viruses.
Identity theft can destroy your life. It can damage your reputation, credibility, rob you of opportunities, and may even get you arrested. You must exert every effort to protect your identity to avoid being a victim of this unfortunate crime.
About the Author
Boris Dzhingarov graduated UNWE with major Marketing. He is the CEO of a brand mentioning advertising agency ESBO ltd.