Identity theft is a major threat in the United States, with around 13 million people falling victim to fraud each year. Luckily, there are numerous steps you can take to protect yourself from this crime. Implement these easy tips, and you’ll be able to better secure your information and make identity theft a lot less likely to happen to you.
Be Careful with Your Sensitive Information
There is almost no good reason to give out your Social Security number online unless you’re filing taxes with a legitimate company or something similar. You should also never share this information over the phone or via email, as it’s better to be extra careful than sorry. Sometimes, those wanting to steal your identity will send emails posing as those from your bank or the IRS, trying to get you to log in to your online account through a fraudulent link. Always click the sender’s email profile, as you can usually spot a fake by the full email address (i.e., not your bank, but a random email address your bank would never use).
Opt Out of Third-Party Information Sharing
Look for an opt-out setting anytime you sign up for an account on a site—such as an online retailer—that may share your information with third parties. There’s usually a little check box you can click to indicate you don’t want your information shared, and it’s worth clicking every time. You can also stop unwanted offers from credit card companies appearing in your mailbox by visiting OptOutPrescreen.com, which lets you remove your name from lists used by creditors and insurers. These little precautions will help you reign in how many people have your information.
Be Careful Where You Shop
Never check out with any online store that doesn’t have a little lock icon next to the web address to indicate that it’s a secure site. If you’re in doubt about a company, look it up with the Better Business Bureau for more information on its validity, and never go through with a purchase if you’re unsure.
Don’t Use Public Wi-Fi to Access Your Online Banking
When it comes to keeping your information secure, public Wi-Fi is a danger zone. Keep your coffee shop surfing to Facebook and other casual browsing, and don’t log in to your online bank accounts while using a public internet connection because it’s easier for people to hack and steal your information. You can always use your phone as a hotspot when you’re in a pinch, which will be safer.
Update Your Mac’s Security Settings Regularly
Keep your firewall, antivirus software, and operating system up to date to reduce the chances of a hacker being able to access your data. You should also make sure your home network is secure by changing your router’s name to one that doesn’t identify the manufacturer, using WPA2 authentication, and keeping your password (and all online passwords) strong.
Monitor Your Accounts Closely
Ideally, your bank will offer free alerts that notify you when suspicious account activity occurs. If so, take advantage of these alerts by making sure you’re signed up for them. It’s cheaper and easier than the credit-monitoring services that some banks sell. Similarly, keep an eye on all your financial accounts. If something suspicious does happen, you can be aware of it as soon as possible, which will allow you take immediate action to rectify the problem.
Take Action Immediately in the Event of Identity Theft
If your identity is stolen, it’s important to respond quickly. That means notifying your bank, reporting any suspicious activity, and even closing accounts if necessary. If you have security alerts set up, you should be able to take action fast and get things sorted out quickly. It’s important to have all relevant documents available to you quickly in this situation, so make sure you’ve consolidated all your credit reports, copies of your IDs and cards, and other necessary information in a safe place you can access easily if your identity is compromised.
You don’t need to fear online banking or shopping just because of the potential for hacking. Identity theft can feel scary, but you can take action to prevent it and keep your personal information safer online.