According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 17.6 million Americans experienced some form of identity theft (ID) in 2014. Identity theft is a serious and frustrating crime in which a criminal pretends to be you in order to spend your money or receive services. Identity theft can be easy to commit and tough to catch, especially in this digital age. Nonetheless, we have a list of tips to protect yourself, both through everyday preparedness and sanitizing your devices.
1. Protect your private information at all costs.
Identity thieves will try to get your social security number, driver’s license, answers to password security questions, credit card numbers, and more. Never release this information willingly unless you know exactly who you are talking to, especially remotely by phone, mail, or online. Keep physical copies of your sensitive documents in a protected place so only you can access them.
2. NEVER respond to requests or solicitations from strangers.
Identity thieves often pose as authority figures or professionals like bankers and FBI members. Be very skeptical if you get any urgent emails or letters from government agencies or people you’ve never met that demand some payment or information because you’ve done something wrong like missed a payment or a deadline.
3. Monitor your credit card billing cycles.
Missed cycles could mean that someone else is controlling your account and rerouting information. Keep an eye out for unfamiliar purchases and compare receipts with online charges.
4. Use great passwords.
Today, we have so much information stored in our emails and other online accounts so keeping identity thieves out is important protection. Picking great passwords helps prevent unwelcome entry into your accounts. Also, it is common for services to offer security questions as an alternative method of entry into your account. Do not answer these questions as yourself, e.g. your actual mother’s maiden name, but rather with another password that you can remember to give you an extra layer of security.
5. Control mail and trash.
Identity theft is prevalent in physical mail as well. Use the post office mailbox for delivering letters and try not to let your mail sit in your mailbox for too long. The post office can put a hold on incoming mail while you are vacationing. Similarly, make sure you do not throw away any documents with sensitive information on them— shred anything that could be compromising!
Firewalls, encryption, and anti-virus software can certainly help protect you from hackers. However, if you dispose of your old devices without carefully destroying data, you may be handing out passwords and personal information that empower a tech-savvy identity thief. For this reason, we strongly recommend you sanitize all devices on which you’ve stored personal information.
If, unfortunately, you do become the victim of identity theft, report it with the FTC (https://www.identitytheft.gov/). Then, print your ID Theft Affidavit from the FTC and report to your local police department. Contact the credit reporting agencies to freeze any new credit applications with your name, alert your bank, and cancel cards with other places where someone may have signed up on your behalf. For more information on what to do if you are the victim of identity theft, see here: https://www.usa.gov/identity-theft
Any corporation, large or small, needs to have a Secure Data Management Process. Creating a process and making it habitual removes a huge volume of uncertainty that would otherwise become a glaring liability. Start here with our checklist of creating your own Secure Data Management Process and pair that in with the tips above to prevent identity theft!
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