In our last posting, we discussed the different ways that scammers and thieves can obtain information from you so as to steal your identity. Chances are, you probably have already figured out a few things that you can do to make sure that you don’t become a victim. But here are more steps to take to prevent identity theft:
- Never give out personal information in unsolicited emails or over the phone to people you do not know. The Nigerian lawyer who sent you the nice email and claims to have a million dollars if you will just send in your bank account information is a con artist. Some of these scammers are getting smart and pretending to send you emails from such high profile companies as Netflix and Amazon, asking you to provide your password to that website for verification purposes. These companies already have your password. They don’t need you to email it to them. If you ever suspect that an email is from a bogus company, call the real company’s customer service line and talk to them.
- Use multiple passwords that are actually secure. This doesn’t mean your wife or child’s birthday or anything else that will be easy to guess. A strong password should have uppercase and lowercase letters and also include numbers and special characters or symbols. Also, having several different passwords for different sites keeps you protected in case one of your passwords is breached.
- Keep your anti-virus software updated. This will prevent viruses from latching on and sending thieves your passwords and other personal information that you transmit.
- If you must use the internet for financial transactions (and who doesn’t these days), then make sure it is a safe and secure computer that you are using. Do not log in from work or a public computer like school or the library. You never know who may have access to this computer and who may be able to get the information.
- If a company or institution you do business with does suffer a security breach which causes your personal information to be exposed, you should be notified in writing. If this happens, contact your credit card companies immediately and ask what you should do to prevent your information from being used. Also, contact credit bureaus for a free copy of your credit report so that you can monitor any new accounts which may be opened in your name.
- The last tip can also help if you become victim of a skimmer who physically copies your credit card. Make it a ritual to check your credit card statement for unauthorized purchases as well as your credit report for new accounts. You may request one free credit report each year from each of the three major credit bureaus. Additional reports will cost, but the fee is usually nominal so consider this as well. There is no need to resort to online credit report websites which will charge you a fee to do something you can do yourself for little to no money.
- Gas station and ATM skimmers can be avoided if you just pay attention to the machines themselves. If it looks as if the machine has been tampered with, or if the equipment doesn’t seem to fit right or match with the terminal, move on. Get your gas or make your transaction at another location. It is better to be safe than sorry.
- Invest in a good quality paper shredder. Any papers that you plan to throw away, no matter if they seem harmless, may have identifying information. Shred them all before you throw them in the trash.
- Secure your mailbox. Never leave mail sitting out overnight and, if you are going to be away for a few days, have the mail service stopped until you come back. Never mail any bills from your home. Instead, take these directly to the post office and drop them in a secured mailbox.
Following these simple steps won’t guarantee that identity thieves can’t take advantage of you. But it can make it harder for them to pull off their scams, which will make them move on to their next hapless victim.