Recently, one of the most significant data breaches in history left 145.5 million people wondering if their highly personal data, such as SSNs, birthdates, and addresses, were exposed to hackers. Back in 2013, Target was also a victim of a data breach which resulted in the compromise of information for over 70 million accounts, including debit and credit card numbers as well as PINs. While those two examples are the extremes, your sensitive information can be put at risk whether you’re online at home or pumping gas at a gas station. As such, it’s essential for you to take steps to reduce the risk of having your identity stolen.
A common mistake that people make is using the same password for multiple logins or the same PIN for numerous debit and credit cards. While it may be easier to remember your passwords this way, it also makes it easier for someone to get into your password-protected information. To minimize your chances of having your identity falsely used or stolen, make your passwords unique and change them regularly.
If you’ve ever lost your wallet or had it stolen, you know how much of a hassle it can be to cancel or replace cards. With that said, you can reduce your risk by reducing the number of cards you carry with you daily. While you may need to carry your driver’s license every day, sensitive information, like your Social Security card, is best left at home. This rule applies to credit and debit cards as well. If you’re out shopping, only take with you the cards that are necessary.
You cannot solely rely on banks and other financial institutions to notify you of fraudulent activity on your cards or in your accounts. The best approach is to be proactive and monitor your monthly statements for any suspicious activity. Reporting discrepancies not only help you but also helps others who may also be a victim of the same fraudulent activity. You can check your credit report for free annually with each of the major credit bureaus. Through your review of your credit report, you can look for and report any inaccuracies such as credit cards, loans, or accounts opened in your name that do not belong to you.
Stolen mail is still a common form of identity theft, so it’s important to notify relevant parties – starting with the Postal Service – if you see your regular monthly statement hasn’t arrived or if you suspect your mail has been stolen.
As for existing statements and receipts, be sure to destroy these before you put them in the trash. You can use a paper shredder or cut them up yourself, but avoid putting complete documents in the trash. At ATM’s and gas stations, always take your receipt if it prints, and rip it up before you dispose of it.
If you have had your debit or credit card compromised in the past, it can be nerve-racking to think that your sensitive information was so easily copied. You may never be able to anticipate where and when your card is going to be copied. However, you can reduce your risk by paying with cash and always taking a receipt. When it comes to withdrawing money, do your best to use an ATM that is associated with your bank or located in a major retailer. These ATMs are likely monitored more regularly. Avoid ‘Generic’ ATMs found outdoors or in dimly-lit, low-traffic areas that are often easy targets for card skimmers.
The tips above are just a few ways you can protect yourself from identity theft. If you feel like your sensitive information isn’t safe, you can take extra steps such as placing a credit freeze or fraud alert on your credit report. These additional steps will make it more difficult for identity thieves and hackers to access or use your personal information. For more information on protecting yourself from identity theft, check out the resources below.
U.S.Dept. of Justice – What Are Identity Theft and Identity Fraud?: https://www.justice.gov/criminal-fraud/identity-theft/identity-theft-and-identity-fraud
MoneyKey – 10 Credit Do’s and Dont’s: https://www.moneykey.com/credit-score-best-practices.php
Wall Street Journal – Identity Theft & Credit Card Fraud: http://guides.wsj.com/personal-finance/credit/how-to-protect-yourself-from-identity-theft/
Annual Credit Report – Protect your identity: https://www.annualcreditreport.com/protectYourIdentity.action