How to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft?
We can all agree that the internet has made the world a more connected and more productive place. People’s lives have naturally extended into the digital realm. But, unfortunately, simply having an online presence can pose a threat to your personal identity. Here’s how.
Simply put, if you post details about yourself online such as your full name, date of birth, and address, some people may use those pieces of information to steal your identity. When they do that, they can take advantage of your social services information or open credit lines using your name. This is called identity theft and its number of casualties continues to rise.
Ways to prevent against identity theft
Did you know that there have been near 310.000 fraud incidents reported from 2020 to 2021? This is according to Cifas, a fraud prevention group, who also reported an 13% rise in cases recorded with the National Fraud Database in 2021.
This may seem scary but don’t have to panic. There are several measures you can put in place to vastly reduce your risk of ID theft.
Store your personal information carefully
We store our valuables away in safety deposit boxes, right? So why not be equally careful with our personal information? Some people create a list of their accounts and passwords and store it on a device in the same way. But that’s only convenient until a hacker accesses it leaving all your accounts ripe for the picking.
Some websites also claim they can “remember” or store your password after your first log in. But, if you’re using a computer that’s not yours or you’re connected to a public Wi-Fi, it’s safer not to store that password. Just type it in again during your next session and you’ll be much safer.
There are also things you can do offline to protect your personal information. Certificates, registration forms, bank statements, etc. should be stored in a secure place. Don’t leave them lying around where the information can be seen by anybody.
Monitor your credit reports
Make it a habit to check your bank statements and credit reports regularly. Some may do it on a monthly basis but it would be better to make it a weekly thing. If something doesn’t seem right, contact the bank immediately.
Keep an eye out for suspicious activity on your online accounts
Just by being vigilant and aware, you can drastically reduce your risk of falling victim to identity theft. For example, if you check your email regularly, you may notice if you keep getting requests to change your password for another account connected to that email address.
This is a sign that someone’s been trying to access your account and for safety, it’s best to change your password immediately. You also need to report it to the admin of the compromised account that you have not requested to change a password.
Place a fraud alert or freeze credit
If you suspect that your identity has been stolen, don’t jump to conclusions just yet. You’re still in control and there are things you can do to get your peace of mind back.
The best thing to do is to establish fraud alerts to check if there are really suspicious activities taking place in your accounts.
Another thing you can do to take control of your financial security is to ask your bank to freeze your credit. By freezing your credit, you can prevent the identity thief from doing any more damage across you credit card or other personal assets.
Choose strong passwords and mix them up
Use strong passwords. How do you know if it’s a strong password? It should be long and complicated. Make sure to also use a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters, as well as symbols. None of the words or numbers in your password should be easily connected to you, making it harder for hackers to guess them.
Also, make sure to use different passwords for different accounts. If you use the same one for all your accounts, that means a cybercriminal can get into all of them.
Use two-factor authentication
When you sign in to your email or other personal accounts, some sites ask you if you want to implement additional level of verification. They may send you a code or another password to your phone or additional email account.
Yes, it’s slightly inconvenient but it’s a price worth paying to keep hackers out.
Approach suspicious-looking emails or links with caution
Follow your instincts. Is that email or website kind of shady? Did you suddenly get an advertisement, asking you to join a promo? Did you get an email saying you won a contest you don’t remember entering?
Think before you click on those emails or links. By simply clicking, you may be downloading malware or allowing a stranger access to your personal device.
Make sure the network you’re connected to is secure
How do you know if your network is secure? There are several signs. For one, websites that don’t have the “s” at the end of the “http” in the URL are not the most secure websites.
Another way to know if the website is secure is to carefully check the URL. Does it look like the legitimate spelling of the website address you’re after? Some hackers will create entire fake sites for a bank or an insurance company using a similar sounding URL.
For example, if the URL of the legitimate website is BankOfUSA.com, the bad guys might change the “O” to the number “0”. So always look carefully at the URL to make sure you are in the legitimate one.
Another important way to check if you’re in a secure website is to look for security certificates. When you’re shopping online, make sure the payment page has security accreditation or would have a sign that says “Payment Secured” by trusted anti-virus companies.
Secure data on mobile devices
Do you store your personal information on your mobile device? Do you stay logged in to your accounts on your phone? Then be extra careful and strengthen the security of your mobile phone.
Always use pin codes or passwords to open your phone and bother taking the extra step by using facial or thumb print recognition.
Limit how much personal information you give out
On social media, people can quite easily piece together your identity if you share your location and other personal information. So, be mindful of what you post.
Cybercriminals can learn a lot about your life by just visiting your social media accounts. When they put all of the pieces of your information together, they can easily start to pretend to be you.
For example, if you post your full birth date on social media or the name of your favorite pet, that can be a great hint for tenacious hackers trying to guess your account passwords.
Pay your bills online
If you’re one of the people who think that it’s not safe to pay your bills online, think again. Online bill payment is actually safer than sending your payments over through the post or getting billing statements on paper.
Why? Simply because your personal information is more vulnerable to theft if it's on paper and physically moving through the postal system.
Check your physical mail frequently
Do you know that some cyber criminals will try to steal your identity by redirecting letters addressed to you. If they’re successful, they can get at important information such as your address, full name, maybe even your license details, birthday, and Social Security number.
If you think you’re missing any billing statements, contact the relevant companies straight away. Ask if the billing address was asked to be changed.
Watch out for pre-approved credit card offers
Banks can get quite aggressive sometimes and send you pre-approved credit cards to encourage you to spend more. This actually poses a number of vulnerabilities and risks (in addition to being tempted into going on a shopping spree).
Pre-approved credit cards can be intercepted. So it’s safer just to let the bank know that you’re not interested in these offers in case someone else starts taking advantage of them for themselves.
Inform your bank that you want the credit card cancelled. And make sure you cut up the card before you dispose of it.
Shred your documents
Any document that has your personal details such as full name, address, mobile number, etc. can be used for identity theft once you throw them out the trash. Make sure to shred these documents before disposing of them.
Any old cards, IDs, and even credit cards should be cut up too because they also contain sensitive information that can be used against you.
Keep up to date with the latest security breaches
It’s in your best interest to be knowledgeable about the latest developments in the battle against identity theft so you can recognize new threats or attacks.
Commonly asked questions about identity theft
Q: Can metal wallets help prevent against identity theft?
A: You see that small rectangular chip In your credit or debit card? That’s what makes your payments so easy when you can tap them at Points of Sale (POS) machines. Cards like these are called Radio-frequency identification Cards and they enable scanners to read your card’s information without the inconvenience of you inserting, remembering then inputting your number. Unfortunately, that also means anyone with a scanning device similar to a POS can also get at your card and make a payment without you even knowing.
Criminals can allegedly scan your cards using small concealed devices just by standing close to you. So, do you need metal wallets to help protect your card by blocking the signals in the bad guy’s scanners?
First, let’s look at the stats.
According to the US CSO (United States Central Statistics Office), there is very little chance of your RFID card being maliciously scanned. This is because second-generation RFID-enabled cards encrypt and protect the information they transmit.
According to the CSO, RFID crime may not be worth the effort and risk. Imagine standing too close to someone just to scan the card — seems like it might look a bit suspicious, unless the would-be hacker makes superb small talk.
That being said, if you want total peace of mind, don’t rule out buying metal wallets or protective coverings.
Q: I’ve lost my Social Security card, what should I do to avoid having my identity stolen?
A: When you lose your Social Security card, having your identity stolen becomes a strong possibility. According to the Social Security Administration, the first thing you should do is report the incident to them. Next is to file a fraud alert in case someone uses your lost card.
Get a new card and put it on file that you’ll only be using this newly-issued card. If the old card ever gets used by the fraudster, the bureau will be alerted.
Q: Are identity theft protection services worth it?
A: Totally. While credit monitoring and ID theft insurance, etc. can’t prevent you from having identity stolen, they can certainly help against it and make things easier if it does happen.
So be proactive rather than having to react after falling victim to identity theft.