With the advent of the internet, identity theft has become more rampant than ever with millions of cases reported every year. Identity theft can take several different forms, such as medical identity theft, financial identity theft, government identity theft…the possibilities are really almost limitless.
While it can be tempting to simply live under a rock and hide your money under your mattress, you can’t let fear keep you from living your life. By taking the proper precautions, you can protect yourself from becoming the victim of identity theft.
Tips to Prevent Identity Theft
Shred everything. Have you ever purchased an item from an independent merchant? A lot of smaller businesses use small portable credit card machines that print receipts that have your full credit card number on them along with your full name. Do not let them keep these receipts because it provides easy access to your information.
Do you hate receiving those pesky credit card offers in the mail and just end up throwing them in the garbage can? Don’t give easy access to thieves with these offers—make sure to shred or at least rip apart these offers. When I lived in an apartment building, I would see people simply throw these offers in the large communal trash can, and I once saw an obvious drugged-out person filtering this trash can and pulling out people’s mail. Be smart about where you provide access to your information.
If your mailbox is located on the street, get a lock for it. You can never be too secure.
Check your accounts regularly. I’m always shocked by people who don’t know what their daily bank account balance is or who rarely check their online banking. I check my credit cards (we have two main ones) weekly, if not several times a week. I check my bank account almost daily, or every other day. This kind of vigilance alerted me when someone made a $500 purchase at a Walmart using my credit card. I quickly called the credit card company, signed a claim, and the purchase was removed from my card within weeks. The process was relatively painless.
Check your credit reports. You can get one free credit report every year from the three main credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. I space mine out and check my credit report at one of these bureaus every four months for any suspicious activity.
Identity Already Stolen? Don’t Become a Victim
If you’ve already had your identity stolen, don’t let yourself actually become a victim of this heinous crime. You can take immediate action to stop the perpetrator in his tracks and reduce the damage to your credit.
Freeze your credit reports. You can place a security freeze at the three credit bureaus which will eliminate any inquiries into your credit. The freeze can be lifted on an as-needed basis only.
Alert all your accounts. Let your bank account and all your credit card agencies know that your identity has been stolen and ask for extra security protection on all your accounts.
Request a new social security number. In extreme cases, you can request a new social security number from the U.S. Social Security Administration.
When it comes to protecting your identity, it is important to be vigilant and pro-active. Don’t let yourself become an easy target; treat any piece of paper with access to your personal information as a valuable document. By following these easy steps outlined above, you can greatly reduce your chance of becoming a victim of identity theft.