We have become so accustomed to handing out the personal details of our lives via social media that many of us have become kind of numb to the idea of identity theft. We reason that if anybody wants to steal our important financial information, they can, and there is not much we can do about it.
Unfortunately, that apathy makes it all that much easier for identity thieves to do their damage. According to a report earlier this year by Javelin Strategy & Research, there is one incident of identity fraud every three seconds.
Since 2012, the number of identity theft cases increased by more than one million and the dollar amount associated with those thefts increased to $21 billion, according to the Javelin report. Much of that growth may be due to the increasing popularity of social networking sites. More and more people are putting more and more personal information out there – so much so that Javelin research found that long-time social networking users were almost twice as likely as non-users to become victims of ID theft.
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Fortunately, there are some simple common-sense steps you can take to protect yourself from identity theft.
Steps to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft
1. Safeguard your personal information. Set your computer’s privacy settings at the highest level and keep anti-virus and anti-malware software up to date. Identity thieves can access your personal information through email with links or attachments that, when opened, will install malware on your computer. The malware can record keystrokes to mine your passwords and enter your online banking sessions.
Experts recommend that you avoid sharing details such as your birth year, your birth place or your mother’s maiden name and keep the financial information on your PC limited. by declining the option to save your password on a financial site.
2. Don’t carry around personal information or passwords in wallet or purse. Placing all your identity information in one place leaves you vulnerable to theft. Memorize your social security number and keep the card itself in a safe place at home. Also be careful to give your social security number only when it is needed for employment or tax purposes. Most businesses do not need it, and you can simply say no when they ask for it. Also, get rid of any papers that have your account passwords listed on them.
3. Get a shredder and use it. It’s kind of comforting and alarming at the same time, but many identity thefts still get our information the old fashioned way – by going through our trash. Minimize your risk by carefully storing the documents you need to keep and carefully and destroying the rest.
Be sure to shred those credit card applications you get in the mail too, especially the ones that contain blank checks. You might want to consider using a postal office box for your snail mail if you frequently receive mail with sensitive information.
4. Use strong and multiple passwords. We all want to use passwords that are easy to remember and type in a million times, but to keep from becoming an ID theft victim, stay away from obvious passwords like “12345” or “password. “
Use personal things that are aren’t publicly known, avoiding the obvious such as your own name, your children’s names, or your pet’s name. Include a combination of spaces, special characters, and lowercase and uppercase letters and numbers to create something unique.
In addition, when you use different passwords for different sites, you limit the damage a thief can do if he accesses one of your accounts. Avoid doing financial transactions at a cafe or store with an insecure Wi-Fi network.
5. Check your financial statements regularly. Checking your credit card and debit card statements on a daily basis is a good way to limit the damage that thieves can do to your accounts. Pay attention to what is being charged and when. Many thieves make multiple small purchases in the $20 range or so in hopes of remaining undetected as long as possible.
Be aware that identity thieves do not limit themselves to your existing accounts. A 2011 Javelin study found that when thieves are able to open new accounts in a victim’s name, the average loss per incident is $3,000 more than for fraud with existing accounts, since this fraud is harder to detect. To avoid being a victim of new-account fraud, obtain free credit reports on a regular basis.
Consumers may obtain free credit reports from the three major credit reporting agencies at AnnualCreditReport.com . If you spread these free credit report requests throughout the year, you can have a good chance of spotting new-account fraud. If you see activity on an account that you did not open, contact the creditor or the credit report agency immediately.
Despite the best of intentions, we cannot possibly prevent all forms of ID theft. That’s why you should use a credit card for more fraud protection than a debit card, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center. Under the federal Fair Credit Billing Act, your liability is capped at $50 with unauthorized use of your credit card. In contrast, debit cards damage is capped by law at $500.