Six Ways to Keep Your Family Safe From Identity Fraud
These days, it seems as though everything is moving online. From our banking to our retail, there’s scarcely any area of our lives that the digital sphere hasn’t touched. While that instant access can be a convenient, time-saving lifesaver when we’re on the go, it can also open us up to vulnerability and risk of identity theft if we’re not careful. Yet, the internet isn’t the only place our personal information could be at risk. From the way you store your documents to the place you keep your mail, you could be exposing yourself and your family without even knowing it.
As a new mom, it’s a priority of mine to keep my children’s identities, as well as my own, as protected as possible. I don’t share photos of them over social media and I’m careful about giving out any sensitive data, such as my credit card, to sources I don’t absolutely trust. Still, these six tips below can help make my household and yours as safeguarded as possible.
1. Shred, shred, shred.
Research reveals that 56% of people who have had their identities stolen can trace the incident back to something that was stolen from their own possession. That means it passed through their hands before being intercepted by the thief. One way to protect your data against such mishandling? Shred it if you don’t need it. While it can be tempting to shred every piece of sensitive material, it’s important to know what to keep and what not to. Here are a few guidelines:
- Tax returns: For the average person, keeping tax returns for three years is sufficient. After that, they can be shredded. If your returns are a little more complex, it may be necessary to keep them a little longer.
- Receipts: Keep all of the receipts from your bank account, ATM transactions, and credit card purchases until they clear properly from your accounts. After that, shred them. That receipt from the grocery store where you paid with cash? Go ahead and just throw it away.
- Bills: Shred your bills as soon as you pay them unless you have a home business and need the bills for tax purposes.
- Junk Mail: If it contains any of your personal information on it, don’t just toss that junk mail in the trash, but shred it instead. One common example is a pre-approved credit card example.
$16 billion was stolen from 15.4 million U.S. consumers in 2016.— Insurance Information Institute: https://www.iii.org
2. Make your passwords more difficult.
Sure, your anniversary is easy to remember. It’s also easy for hackers to guess. Strive to create passwords that are as random and difficult as possible, but make sure to keep them in a safe place so you know how to log in. One strategic practice to adopt is to make your password letters create a sentence, with each letter of the password standing for a word.
For example, you might say “2018 is going to be my best year ever.” Then, your password would be “2018igtbmbye.” It might look strange, but chances are you’ll remember it, and nobody else will. That’s what makes it work. Be sure to change up your passwords frequently, using different combinations of letters, numbers and symbols.
3. Check your credit.
By law, you’re entitled to one free credit report annually from one of the three major credit reporting bureaus, including Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. That means that once every four months, you can request a report from one of those three.
Take advantage of this opportunity and carefully review each report generated. If anyone has opened an account in your name without your approval, you’ll see it on here and you can go through the bureau to take action immediately. An entire account could be operating without your consent or even your awareness, so it’s worth taking the time to check. I did this last year and found that someone had opened a store-specific charge card in my name. I was able to rectify the situation and thankfully, it hadn’t been going on for long. Had I not checked, the thief could have run my credit into the ground by making purchases and not following up on the payments.
4. Handle financial transactions carefully.
When it comes to your finances, you can never be too careful. As such, any time you’re getting out your wallet to pay for something, whether it’s online or in person, do a double take to make sure the environment is as secure as possible. Even places that you think are secure, like the gas station or the ATM at the bank, could be victimized by card skimming devices.
Take a second look at the card reader wherever you are and make sure your machine is protected by security cameras. Thankfully, the new microchips embedded on most cards today helps protect you against such fraud. Not only to they encrypt your information, a fake plastic card made with your number wouldn’t work unless the same chip was installed inside of it.
Secondly, run as many transactions as possible as credit, even when using a debit card. If your debit accounts are compromised, that gives thiefs direct access to your bank accounts. On the other hand, you can quickly discern any fraudulent purchases on your credit card statements and take action.
5. Be discerning about social media.
You might think that hopping online and sharing a quick picture of you and the family at Disneyworld is a totally fine thing to do. Yet, unfortunately, very few things are safe and kept personal online. The recent Facebook debate aside, it just makes sense not to share too much personal data over the internet. It doesn’t take much for a thief to grab ahold of your data and run with it, so don’t give him or her any fodder if you don’t have to. Keep details that could identify you, including your birthday, address, and phone number off your social media profiles. Also, be careful about who you accept as a connection on these platforms and increase your security levels to their highest setting.
6. Keep your phone secure.
You may already have a password of a touch ID installed on your phone, but did you know it could still be vulnerable to interception? For instance, if you don’t remember to turn off Bluetooth after using it in your car, you could be putting yourself at risk? Also, be cautious when downloading apps from your phone’s app store. While most are legitimate and have been vetted by authorities, there are plenty that are actually malware posing as apps, and once you’ve downloaded them onto your phone, they can start to scan it for personal data.
Do your research before downloading and be wary of free versions of extra-popular apps that seem suspicious. In this case, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Since the rise of digital currency, the number of phone hackers has been on the rise, as thief seek to tap into phones and access online accounts. As such, take extra precaution when using yours or completing any banking transactions that way.
Stay Safe Online, In Public and at Home
The Internet Age has afforded us plenty of opportunities, but it has also made us more connected than ever before. While most of that capability is beneficial and valuable, it can also be used incorrectly by criminals with poor intent. Keep your data safe and protect yourself and your family by taking extra precaution when sharing any personal details as well as shredding documents that reveal that data. It might take a few extra seconds to do the double-check, but it could save you hours of headaches down the road