In today’s world, especially the digital world, people constantly leave behind little pieces of themselves. These pieces, while small, are a part of a larger picture, your identity. Please do not underestimate the resourcefulness of identity thieves, and your trash might be their treasure.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, over 800,000 identity theft cases have been reported in 2021 YTD. These cases include government documents and benefits fraud, credit card fraud, loan, and lease fraud, employment and tax-related fraud, bank fraud, as well as phone and utility fraud. Unscrupulous crooks prey on the uninformed and vulnerable individuals in our society, both big and small. Here is a list of healthy practices you should adopt to keep your identity safe and sound.
Tips for protecting your identity
- Keep your Social Security number secure, and do not carry it with you or in your wallet. Only give it out your SSN if completely necessary.
- Do not share your personal information with anyone. This includes things like your birth date, SSN, and account names.
- Secure your mail by retrieving it daily. If planning to be away from your mailbox, have a hold placed on your mail until you return.
- Be aware of your typical billing cycles; if bank statements and bills appear to be inconsistent or late, get in touch with the sender.
- Utilize security functions on your mobile phone.
- While using public networks, modify your firewall settings. Use a virtual private network (VPN) when accessing accounts or making any transaction while connected to public Wi-Fi.
- Inspect financial statements (credit card, bank) for unauthorized activity.
- Feed your shredder often. It is essential to destroy account statements, old credit cards, and any other sensitive information that could be removed from your trash can.
- Use virus-protection software to secure your home computer.
- Create complex and unique passwords for all your accounts (if one goes out, they all go out). If a company that you have an account with experiences a data breach, promptly change your password.
- Monitor your credit and take advantage of the ability to freeze your credit. This will negate any attempt to apply for accounts in your name.
What to do if your identity is stolen
If you should find yourself in the unfortunate position of having your identity stolen, there are several steps you should take. First, contact the company, bank, or credit union’s fraud department and let them know that you have been a victim of identity theft. They will help you freeze or close accounts that have been compromised. Next, you will want to contact one of the three credit reporting agencies (TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian) and have them assign a fraud alert to your report.
Taking this action will notify creditors to take extra steps in verifying your identity before extending credit. Change the login information for any affected accounts and take great care in selecting passwords (you do not want this happening again).
Once you have done everything you can to secure your accounts, contact your local police department, report the crime, and obtain a police report. Lastly, visit www.IdentityTheft.gov , report the theft, and create a recovery plan. Through this site, your progress will be tracked, and you will be helped through every step to regaining control of your identity.