As incidences of identity theft continue to rise, it is never too early to take appropriate precautions to protect your personal information. As we conduct more business on the internet and thoughtlessly share personal details, online identity theft is a major issue. However, identity theft takes many forms. The tried and tested techniques criminals use to steal your identity via mail, phone, or other means also persist.
While identity theft is not 100% preventable, taking some time to mitigate the risk of identity fraud is a worthwhile investment. We’ll guide you through some simple steps you can take today to better protect your identity and keep your information secure.
1. Pay attention to the documents coming into and out of your home
Stolen mail and dumpster dives remain highly effective ways for criminals to commit identity theft. When it comes to your mail, invest in a lockable mailbox or PO Box to prevent mail theft. Avoid mailing bill payments from your home – mail at the post office or another secure location instead. If you’re traveling out-of-town, request that your mail be held for the duration of your trip.
As for document disposal, invest in a shredder and start destroying documents like credit card or bank statements, healthcare claims, and receipts that contain your credit card information. There’s a reason identity thieves still use these methods in an era of rampant online identity theft – it’s easy. Avoid making yourself a potential target by thoroughly destroying documents before throwing them in the trash. You can never be too careful when it comes to your personal information.
According to the Department of Public Safety, you should:
- Use the slots inside the Post Office, or hand the mail to a carrier
- Not leave mail overnight, and in case of possible missing mail, contact the issuer immediately.
- Inform your Post Office when you won’t be home.
2. Monitor your credit cards
This means staying on top of both your credit card accounts and your overall credit reports. Take time at the end of each month to review your credit card statements. Check each purchase carefully and be on the lookout for any suspicious activity. If you have a number of store-specific credit cards, especially ones you don’t use much, consider closing the accounts.
In addition, take advantage of the annual credit report offered by each of the three major credit reporting bureaus. As an extra precaution, you can request a quarterly report to keep a close eye on your financial accounts. Why? Credit reports will alert you to any suspicious activity within your financial accounts. By regularly monitoring your credit reports, you can quickly identify suspicious activity and take prompt action to address it.
3. Protect important components of your identity, like your birthdate and Social Security number.
Your Social Security number is a key component of your identity, so protecting it is of paramount importance. As a general best practice, avoid carrying your Social Security number in your wallet or otherwise on yourself. When someone asks for your Social Security number in any capacity, ask why they need it and what steps they will take to protect the data given. Sometimes there are alternative ways to verify your identity instead. And of course, be sure to destroy any documents featuring your Social Security number before throwing them away.
Never give out important personal information by email or phone. No reputable company will ask for information like your date of birth, Social Security number, or debit card PIN over the phone. If you receive a call from someone requesting this type of information, refuse to comply with their request for information. You might consider doing a reverse phone search, using a site like Nuwber, to help determine the identity of the caller, or adding yourself to the Do Not Call registry. Use your best judgment in these situations and err on the side of caution when it comes to giving out personal details.
4. Take steps to protect your identity online.
As we spend increasing amounts of time on the Internet, it is of utmost importance to protect your identity online. There are multiple steps you can and should take to prevent yourself from becoming a victim of identity theft.
While it may seem like common sense, the importance of strong passwords cannot be overstated. Avoid using the same password across multiple accounts. If you feel one of your accounts has been compromised, change your password immediately.
According to a CBC report, Christine Beauchamp, director of client engagement and incident detection, Canadian Centre for Cyber Security, says:
- A strong unique password is one the top ways to defend yourself
- Avoid recycling passwords
- Use at least 15 characters, including special characters and lower and uppercase letters
- Use “a “pass phrase” — a nonsensical sentence — to help you remember it”
Practice online safety by staying off public WiFi networks. Although freely available WiFi is convenient, public networks, like those found in airports or coffee shops, are easy targets for hackers. If you do find yourself in need of WiFi on the go, avoid making purchases or logging into accounts, and consider investing in a VPN.
Finally, limit how much and what kind of information you share online. How often do you sign up for a website or create an account without really thinking about the information they’re asking for? Or maybe you’re unaware of your privacy settings on social media? These are just two areas you can look into to limit what information is available about you on the internet. When it comes to your personal information, think twice before sharing it online.
According to Equifax, you should:
- Avoid providing personal information “over the phone, through the mail, or over the Internet unless you have initiated the contact.”
- Avoid over-sharing information, because tech-savvy thieves can quickly find your social media activity and use it for their illegal activities.
- Consider using a service that continuously monitors your credit file for fraud.
Identity theft affects millions of people each year. While it isn’t preventable, there are a multitude of steps you can take to protect your identity, both online and off. Don’t make yourself an easy target – take a proactive approach when it comes to protecting your personal data.
Each of the actions listed above is the steps you can take today to better secure your personal information. But remember – although you are your best first line of defense when it comes to protecting your identity, your precautions will only go so far when it comes to entrusting your data to businesses and organizations. Be discerning when it comes to sharing personal information in any capacity. Above all, stay vigilant.