request info email to friend
Avoiding Identity Theft
The results of identity theft can range from a massive inconvenience to financial devastation. PC Magazine suggests ways you can limit your chance of being the victim of identity theft.
Use the shredder. Shred any paper that contains account numbers, Social Security numbers or any other personal or financial information before you toss it; identity thieves sometimes go through garbage for information. And if you go out of town, put a hold on your mail or ask a trusted friend or neighbor to collect it while you are gone.
Keep documents safe. You can keep important paper documents such as your birth certificate, passport and Social Security card in a fireproof safe in your home or in a bank safe-deposit box. You can also use the safe-deposit box for important documents such as your will, CDs, stock certificates, etc. Save tax returns and supporting documents for at least six years. And if you save records digitally, make sure to use encryption software.
Vary your passwords. It is convenient to use the same password for all your online sites, but it is also means that if identity thieves gain access to your password for one site, they have access to all your sites. Create a unique, strong password for every site that contains your personal information. You can write the passwords down and store then in safe place, or you can use a digital password manager.
Be suspicious. People looking for personal information often say that they need it for a legitimate purpose. For example, you might get a call or an email from “tech support,” saying they have noticed your computer has a virus or other problem; to fix it, they need your password or other information. These people are almost always scammers. If there is something wrong with your computer, you’ll probably notice it – and can seek tech help yourself.
Similarly, if you get an email – at home or at work -- that asks you to click on an attachment or provide information, be very wary. Internet thieves can create emails and even websites that look exactly like a legitimate charity or business. If you click on the attachment, you might be downloading a virus or giving someone access to your information. Only click on attachments or provide information if you are absolutely certain of the source of the request.
Protect your laptop. Get a program that can shut off a lost or stolen laptop so that a thief cannot take your laptop and open it at his or her leisure. Some of these programs also can help locate a lost or stolen laptop.
Protect your phone. Consider using a fingerprint or even facial recognition rather than a four-digit passcode or swipe pattern to unlock your phone. If you do use a four-digit password, make it challenging. The most common iPhone password, which is also the most common computer password, is 1234 – which is unlikely to fool anyone.
Don’t overshare on social media. Identity thieves can use information you post to find out things about you. Regular thieves also check social media, so don’t post that you are on vacation, for example. And check your privacy settings regularly.
Check your credit report. You can get a free credit report once a year from each of the three main credit reporting bureaus – TransUnion, Equifax and Experian. To get your report, as well as information about what to look for and how to respond to any inaccuracies you find, go to www.annualcreditreport.com. If you choose to go through all three companies, space out the reports throughout the year. You also can check your credit score periodically to make sure there are no big changes. Many banks and credit cards let you check your score for free if you are a customer, or you can use the free service at www.creditkarma.com.
Consider an ID protection service. There are several different services that will help protect you against identity theft and/or help you recover if your identity is stolen. If you decide to go this route, be sure you understand exactly what the service will – and will not – cover.