According to identity theft statistics I found from the Bureau of Justice, over 16 million people were victims of identity theft just in the year of 2012.
Identity theft is becoming such a common occurrence in recent years and it is something far too many people have personal experience with.
No one wants to deal with identity theft. Identity theft can lead to headaches, a drop in your credit score, loss of money, and more. While some situations can be fixed in just a day, some identity theft situations can linger on for years and years.
Even I have been the victim of identity theft numerous times, mainly due to someone stealing my personal information when I was just a child.
Nothing has happened recently though, even though I have multiple accounts, many credit cards (all used for rewards points), and more, and I believe a lot of that has to do with the fact that I always make sure to be very careful with my personal information.
Below are my tips on how to protect yourself from identity theft.
1. Don't give out information unless you're sure it's needed.
There are many scammers out there just hoping to find someone who will fall for one of their tricks.
One trick is asking for personal information either on the phone or through an email. The scammer might claim that they are your bank, the IRS, etc., and that they need your credit card number, your bank account number, your social security number and so on. Sadly, many people fall for this.
If someone calls you, you should call the correct company back and make sure that it's actually them who is asking for your information. In many cases, it turns out that the original person you talked to actually was a scammer.
If you receive an email and you are unsure if it's actually from the company, you should do the same and contact them yourself before you give them any information. Scammers these days will make the email look very authentic, and they can even change what their email is so that it looks exactly like the actual company's email address.
2. Always be careful with what internet connection you use.
I travel a decent amount, but I am always careful with how I access the internet. I never access anything from public wifi that is personal, such as bank accounts, credit card accounts, PayPal, and so on. This is because wifi that you get from a cafe, a hotel, and so on is never completely safe.
You never know who else is on the same wifi as you. For example, they may be stealing your information by logging every key that you type.
This can sometimes make traveling hard but I am usually able to make it work because I can still access everything that is very personal with my phone's internet (not wifi).
Here are my tips for when you're traveling but need to access the internet:
- Never connect to a wifi connection you don't trust. Free wifi can be tempting, but many hackers nowadays are luring people in with unprotected wifi signals and then stealing all of their information.
- Make sure the wifi you are connecting to is a real one. Hackers are now creating wifi names that look very similar to the real thing in order to fool users.
- Have strong anti-virus computer software and make sure the firewall is up.
- Wait to access financial accounts until you are at home.
- Change your password if you believe your account has been compromised (once you are able to securely access the internet).
3. Keep your social security card and number safe.
I know way too many people who keep their social security card in their wallet and/or purse. I've even seen numerous people who place their social security cards in the slot where their license goes, so it's in view of everyone whenever they take out their wallet at a store.
This is a HUGE mistake.
You simply need to remember your social security number and keep your social security card at home. You most likely don't even need your actual card that often, so remembering your number should be enough when you need it.
4. Shred documents that contain your personal information.
Before you throw out papers that contain any personal information, you should shred them. This includes credit card statements, bank statements, bills, and so on.
If it's a piece of paper that includes information that a person could possibly piece together and steal your information, you should shred it as good as you can.
Some identity thieves are known to piece together shredded papers, so you want to make sure that the pieces are very small. I usually even go as far as to darken out any numbers that could be used before I shred anything.
5. Check your credit reports.
You should review your credit report at least once a year. You can receive up to three each year for free though – one from each credit bureau. It's free and I highly recommend doing this!
Checking your credit report can help you see if there are any mistakes, if someone has stolen your identity and more. Many people don't find out about mistakes and theft until after they check out their credit report, sometimes not until years down the line. It's much better to find out sooner so that you can fix any mistakes and repair any damage that was made to your credit score.
6. Trust your gut.
If you are about to give your information to someone or if you are about to pay with a debit/credit card and something feels wrong with the situation, then stop and do your research. Whatever you are doing can probably wait or you can just pay with cash.
It's always best to be safe with your information than to worry about what may happen.
Have you ever been a victim of identity theft? How do you protect yourself from identity theft?
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