Identity theft is a crime that victimizes millions of people in the US every year. Not only does this misfortune happen to hard working adults, but it can also happen to children and senior citizens. What most people don’t know is that having your identity stolen can devastate your financial well being for years. Criminals don’t care if you’re 5 or 65 years old, they prey on any individual with a social security number and they know that there is only so much law enforcement can do to catch them. Despite this ever-growing crime, there are precautions you can take to protect your finances and your secure future.
1. Update the difficulty level on your passwords.
If you’re using the same password for all of your online accounts, you’re putting yourself at risk for having your identity stolen.
Creating easy to remember passwords definitely makes life a little easier, but not increasing the level of difficulty on your passwords can also facilitate the process hackers (or their software) use to get into your accounts and steal sensitive information. Simply changing your passwords to ones that include 8 or more characters with a combination of letters and numbers, can protect your information from identity thieves. Also using different passwords throughout your accounts will increase the level of security on your sensitive information.
2. Monitor your credit.
Without monitoring your credit on a continuous basis, it can be difficult to discern any fraudulent activity taking place. Companies such as American Express offer card members the option to enroll in CreditSecure, which provides constant monitoring and access to credit reports for a low monthly fee. Other credit card companies may also offer similar programs to help protect your identity. However, monitoring your credit doesn’t always come with a price, you can order your credit report from each of the credit bureaus, once a year, for free. One of the key ways to catch fraudulent activity is by checking your credit and all of your credit card activity statements.
3. Encrypt your smartphone.
Nowadays, smartphones are one of the most important tools we carry with us at all times. They contain highly sensitive information about who we are, our whereabouts, passwords, credit cards and other data that gets stored through app usage. If your smartphone lands in the wrong hands, identity thieves can easily retrieve this information. Setting a passcode/pin to lock your phone, should be the first step you take to ensuring no one steals private information from you. Also creating a back up plan in case your smartphone gets lost or stolen, can help minimize the damage to your identity. For instance, many smartphones allow you to enable features that erase all data after X failed attempts at the passcode/pin. Doing so can provide peace of mind during unfortunate events.
4. Be cautious of “FREE WIFI” areas.
Staying connected anywhere you go is definitely important for all of us. However, places offering free wifi, are a playground for hackers and identity thieves. With that being said, shopping online at your local coffee shop, or sending emails containing sensitive information can make you extremely vulnerable to identity thieves who are just waiting to grab that credit card information or that copy of your driver’s license and financials for your new apartment. Steering clear of these hotspots when dealing with sensitive information, can reduce your risk of exposure to virtual criminals significantly.
5. Never click on email links from people you don’t know.
Every kid grew up on the tried and true advice, “Never talk to strangers.” Yet so many adults make this same mistake, online, every day. Clicking a link (as tempting as it may be) from an unfamiliar source is just asking for hackers to access your computer and take what they need. Protect yourself from these tricky situations and always ask yourself, “Do I know the sender of this email?”. If your answer is, “I’m not sure,” it’s best you don’t click the link unless you’re absolutely certain it’s coming from a verified source.