Identity theft affects over 10 million people each year and the number keeps rising. There are ways to protect your identity by following a few simple steps.
Identity theft occurs when somebody steals your name and social security number to apply for a loan, make purchases with your credit card, obtain a job, pay for utilities or use your driver’s license.
Your identity could also be used by someone who commits a crime, giving you a false criminal record. Many people have lost their cars, homes, jobs and reputation.
Here are some tips to protect yourself from identity theft:
- Keep your computer updated with firewalls and the latest security and anti-virus software updates.
- Choose different passwords for all websites and online activities that require them. Use a combination of letters and numbers that is difficult to guess. Never use your pet’s name, initials or date of birth.
- Protect your wallet, credit cards and personal documents at all times. Never carry your Social Security Number (SSN) on you or give it out unless you are sure it is safe and necessary.
- Beware of suspicious emails. Banks and other legitimate companies will never ask you for personal information like your passwords, social security number or driver’s license number through email. Even if an email appears to be coming from your bank and has a convincing logo or web address, it may be a scam. You can always call the company to make sure the message is real.
- Shred or tear up any personal information, bills, or statements you want to get rid of. If you throw them away intact, they could still be found and read.
- Be extremely cautious when giving out or posting any personal or contact information, both online and offline (especially on social media websites). Take advantage of privacy controls and security settings. Whatever you post online can be found by anyone and will stay there forever.
- Review your credit report and monthly bank statements and keep a careful record of the money you spend to make sure there are no suspicious charges on your cards.
- Immediately report any suspicious activity to the police, your bank, and other financial institutions, such as credit agencies.
- Be cautious about notices, emails, contests, and advertisements that claim you have won a prize or that offer high rewards with little or no effort on your part, especially if they require you to fill in personal information to collect the prize.
- Share your knowledge to help spread awareness about fraud and identity theft. If you hear of a scam happening locally or online, let your family and friends know.