Three Identity Theft Prevention Tips
Having your identity stolen is no picnic. It can cause serious damage to your credit, and possibly even your criminal record. Identity theft victims spend a lot of time and money trying to clear their names, and all too often they are unsuccessful.
We’ve all heard the expression, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This certainly applies when it comes to identity theft. While in many cases identity theft occurs through no fault of the victim, there are things you can do to reduce your chance of becoming a target.
Tip #1: Keep Your Mailbox and Garbage Free of Personal Information
It may sound archaic, but dumpster diving is still alive and well. Some identity thieves still rummage through other people’s trash in hopes of finding personal information they can use. Fortunately, having your identity stolen from your garbage is fairly easy to prevent. Just shred anything that has account numbers, your Social Security Number or any other identifying information on it before tossing it.
Stolen mail also remains a popular source of information for identity thieves. Make it a point to check your mail as soon as possible after it’s delivered, and never leave it in the box overnight. You can also stop receiving unsolicited credit card and loan offers by calling 1-888-5OPTOUT. This will reduce the number of things in your mail that a would-be thief could use.
Tip #2: Use Your Information Wisely Online
Online banking and shopping are wonderful conveniences, but they can also provide opportunities for identity thieves. Some send “phishing” emails that are designed to look like they came from your bank, requesting information such as account numbers and passwords. Others set up fake online stores to steal information from people who shop online.
An important rule of thumb is to never, ever click on a link in an email that requests personal information. Instead, type the URL of the bank or company that the email claims to be from directly into your browser’s address bar. When you log into your account, there should be a request for information there if it is legitimate. If there’s any doubt, call the institution using a number from your statement or the phone book and ask.
When shopping online, only give your personal information and credit card number to companies you trust. Also, make sure that the page you enter information into is secure. If it is, there will be a lock icon at the bottom of your browser, and the URL will begin with “https” instead of “http.”
Tip #3: Watch and Protect Your Credit Report
Keeping an eye on your credit report may not prevent identity theft from happening in the first place, but it can help you catch problems quickly. As soon as you see suspicious activity, report it to the credit bureaus and have a fraud alert placed on your credit report. This will keep the thief from opening any more accounts in your name.
It’s also important to put a fraud alert on your report if you find out that your information has been stolen from a third party. Companies are required to inform their customers when their personal information has or may have been stolen from their files or computers. If you receive such a notice, call the credit bureaus immediately, request a report, and initiate a fraud alert.
Identity thieves are a persistent lot. But if you make it as difficult as possible to obtain and use your personal information, they will likely move on. There are plenty more identities out there that may be easier marks.