How to Prevent Identity Theft
Way back when it was the norm to live off the grid and companies, like households, were only connected by phone calls, faxes, and hard copy data, identity theft wasn’t an everyday concern. Now from the time we wake up to the time we go to bed, we navigate multiple instances in which our personal information is exposed and could be exploited. Here are 7 of those cases and the precautions you can take to further protect your personal information and identity.
Take Caution with Contest Entries
Not all contest entries, whether online or event-related, come with risk. The best way to go about participating is to limit the amount of information you include. A contest may reasonably ask for a name, contact number, and email address if these are the means by which they will contact you. Some companies hope to also receive a mailing address, which is personal information you shouldn’t feel the need to share, especially if you don’t want to end up on a sales list.
If including an email address, make sure you give one that’s separate from where you receive bills and bank statements. Before submitting any of your information, make sure the company has stated in writing that they will not sell your information or use it for something other than the intended purpose. As an added precaution, gather company contact information and screenshot or take an extra entry form with you for your records.
Share Less on Your Office Forms
Providing information to dental, medical or other health offices may not seem like an unsafe practice. In some cases, your social security number may be required before medical procedures or to connect your insurance for billing. However, if you are paying out of pocket or are not familiar with the staff, providing personal information could put you at risk. How many eyes will see it and can you trust them all? Ever met a less than professional receptionist or billing specialist? Me too. You can always ask, “why is this information needed?” and “what will happen if I don’t provide it?” The office staff is far less likely to question or pressure you to provide it than you think.
Now, consider other ways you can apply this. Do you need to share your social security number in your first round of an employment application? You may not be offered the position and yet your sensitive information could be sitting in a stack of unprotected papers or kept in a database for who knows how long. How many people in that company will see it unnecessarily? The less you share your information, the better.
Protect Physical Property
Gone are the days that you can take your unopened “junk” mail and throw it in the trash. Even pieces of information such as the last four digits of your bank account or the combination of your full name and address can put you in financial danger. Thieves are diligent in collecting little bits knowing that this will allow them to steal your tax refund, take out loans, or open credit cards, bank accounts, or utility service, just to name a few. Fight back with a one-two process of blacking out personal information, then shredding it before adding it to the garbage.
Other steps you can take include removing your mail from your mailbox in a timely manner and being sure sensitive mail is always kept out of sight from guests in your home. You may even want to keep it under lock and key.
Social Security Cards
The same goes for social security cards. They are one of the most important pieces of information related to your identity. Someone could potentially impersonate you in order to take out thousands in student loans or receive government benefits. The extent of damage a criminal can do with your social security number will not be quick, easy, or painless to fix. The physical card should only be carried in your wallet when a situation such as new employment requires it. Make sure when Human Resources or medical billing requires it, that it is returned with urgency. In all other cases, it’s best if stored in a locked cabinet or drawer.
When it comes to both your social security card and number, carefully consider who among your loved ones can be trusted with your information. It’s very unusual to share it with family other than your parents, who have likely held these records safe for you until you reached adulthood. At some point, you should acquire all these records, especially if you have reason to believe these individuals may be using your information in a harmful or self-serving way. It’s also advisable not to share your number with a significant other until married or unified legally.
ATM and Computer Safety
While the EMV (Europay, Mastercard, and Visa) chip in your debit and credit cards may help you feel more secure when swiping at checkout, in other ways you are no less at risk. Creditcards.com reports that since the introduction of the chip technology in 2015, theft in which a card is not present (CNP) has almost doubled.
As mentioned previously, individuals can steal your information simply by seeing your physical card. A criminal is more likely to use technological means to glean what they need to take advantage of your finances. You must be cautious in any instance that might leave you vulnerable. This includes using ATMs at the bank or gas station, linking bank account information to subscription services or online shopping sites. Theft attempts in the form of phishing emails are likely sent to your email address every day.
Check out the following articles for specific tips on how to use ATMs and computers safely:
While you may be use to getting fishy marketing calls, it may surprise you that according to the Federal Trade Commission, phone calls account for the highest amount of identity theft complaints. Mail and email related complaints were miniscule by comparison.
Over the years, these phone scams have come in a few varieties. Most recently, criminals have been impersonating the IRS and try to convince you to pay an owed balance immediately. In a similar scheme, someone may call telling you a relative is in trouble and you will need to send money to bail them out. In both cases, never relinquish banking account or social security numbers. Additionally, do not confirm any information they seem to already possess. Furthermore, don’t make a payment through any other suggested method.
If you feel the call may be legitimate, ask for the company’s name and location and end the call politely. Visit their website such as that of the IRS and call the number listed to address the issue in question.
A unique version of these scams consists of the caller asking questions that would require you to state your name or answer “yes.” The criminals can then turn around and use these recordings as voice authorization. Scrutinize the caller’s every word. When in doubt, hang up.
For an in-depth list of phone scams, visit the FTC website:
Mobile Phone and Tablet Apps
You may not be a teenager or millennial, but it’s likely you have multiple apps on your phone. It may be email or GPS, or maybe Photos linked to your Google account. As harmless as these standard apps seem, without proper precautions, they can be a peephole giving predators a view of your information. For this reason, turn off your data connection when you are not using it, set passwords and screen timeouts for your phone and apps, and deny location tracking when you can.
In the article above, “Protecting Your Identity,” you’ll learn more than one reason why it’s important to avoid connecting your phone to WIFI networks in public places such as Starbucks or an airport. This can make your personal information accessible to anyone within a certain distance.
Lastly, as helpful as personal finance apps can be, do your research before signing up. What do the reviews say about how well they’ve protected others information? Is the company backed by a government agency? What liability do they claim in preventing theft? What level of security do they provide? Again, the rule of thumb is the less you share your information, the better. So, if a finance app is the way you want to go, limit how many you use and the extent to which they can manage your financial information.
The sad truth is that as more and more data turns digital and more processes are automated, identity theft will continue to rise every year. Be diligent in educating yourself on trends in identity theft and you’ll stay one step ahead.
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