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Learn about the latest ID theft schemes so you can protect your personal data
By law, every consumer can check their credit for free once every twelve months. There’s even a government-mandated web portal set up where you can download your reports. Just answer a few security questions and you can download the reports from all three bureaus.
When it comes to preventing identity theft, you want to look for two things:
Name variations are often assigned incorrectly, so you can end up with collection accounts that aren’t yours. If you have accounts listed in your credit report that you didn’t authorize or open, it’s a sure sign of theft.
A yearly review is one of your best lines of defense to catch ID theft early.
The Social Security Administration created a special portal where anyone with a Social Security number can set up an online account. Whenever someone tries to claim benefits or use your number, the portal notifies you. This helps you catch Social Security fraud early, which is important because it’s the worst type of theft to handle.
Note: Do wait to do this! If someone steals your Social Security number, they can set up an account in your name. That means there’s a much lower chance of catching the theft, because the thieves intercept all your warnings!
First off, change your passwords often. This helps prevent theft. You should also use one password for only one account. With today’s technology, it’s really easy to use a random password generator to create 16-character strings that are impossible to guess. Then, you save your passwords to a secure online vault or on your smartphone so you don’t have to remember them all.
There’s no excuse for using something easily guessable like Password123 or something equally as guessable.
Some phishing scams are easy to spot, but some are easy to fall for because they really seem legitimate. Phishing scams work by convincing you that a service provider you work with needs information from you. They either direct you to a website where they ask for personal information or they ask you to call them. Either way, their goal is to get things like you Social Security number or credit card account information.
If you receive an unsolicited email that directs you to do something, call the service provider’s main customer service line. Don’t call the phone number listed in the email. Just check the company website and call the main customer service line. This ensures you only respond to legitimate requests for information.
Emails are one of the easiest forms of communication that cyberthieves can intercept. So, whether a legitimate service provider asked for it or not, never email private information. Call and give numbers over the phone if they’re needed or ask if there’s a secure website where you can enter the information.
Nobody but you should have your debit card PIN. And nobody on your social networks needs to know your physical address. Oversharing is a big problem for identity theft and social media is only making it worse. Adjust all the security settings on your favorite social networks so you only share stuff with people connected to you. This will help prevent ID theft and also problems like social media identity theft.
Credit monitoring services alert you whenever there’s a change in your credit profile. This helps you catch identity theft as early as possible. It’s also a good way to track your credit score so you can build credit effectively.
If you can’t afford a paid service, there are free ones available. You may also get a monitoring service free through one of your credit card accounts or bank accounts.
Most people are pretty bad about closing old accounts. You may still have a Hotmail account that you haven’t used in over a decade, but it’s still there. And it leaves you open for identity theft if it gets hacked.
If you stop using a service, make sure to close your account. This step is most often skipped with free accounts; you close paid accounts to stop the bills, but free accounts just get left running. So, instead of just deleting that app that you never use anymore, actually take the step of going online to close the account.
Most forms that you fill out ask for your Social Security number even when they don’t need it. If a service provider wants your Social Security number, ask if it’s required. If not, leave the space blank. This happens often with doctor’s offices and veterinarians. Streaming services don’t need your SSN either.
So, always ask why they need the information and if it’s required. If it’s not, don’t provide it!
Impart all these great identity theft tips that you’ve learned to your kids. Teenagers are terrible about oversharing and they’re often not protective enough of their accounts. They may even give their debit card and PIN to a friend because they need money and they’re feeling lazy.
So, don’t let your best ID theft practices be thwarted by kids that don’t know any better. Teach your kids about identity theft and how to avoid it, so they adopt good security practices as early as possible.