If you’re scared about having someone steal your identity, you have good reason to be. Identity theft is more and more common nowadays, so it is really important to know how you can protect yourself from it. There are a lot of things to protect yourself, but here are the most practical ones:
1. Have a look at your bank statements online. Verify your bank statements electronically at least once a month to make sure everything is ok and you recognize all the transactions. The sooner you catch a fraud, the better and the more chances you have to solve the problems with as few headaches as possible.
2. Review your credit reports as often as possible. Make sure you’re familiar with all the information listed, as in the case of bank statements.
3. Don’t leave out printed papers with personal information. I know you trust your friends, but sometimes the people that are closest to you will be the ones to betray your trust and steal your private information. Keep your bills, bank statements, checkbooks and any other personal information locked away or at least in a drawer that nobody has access to. In any case, don’t just leave your papers lying around randomly.
4. Don’t give your social security number to everyone who asks for it. Your Social Security number is an important key to a lot of your personal information, so make sure you really have to provide it before you do. If an agency asks for your SSN, ask if you can give your driver’s license number or another type of number instead and explain to them why you would feel more reassured by doing so.
5. Don’t mail important information from your mailbox. Such as checks. Drop them off at the post office or an US mailbox instead and have new checks mailed at your bank, not at home.
6. Get a cross-cut paper shredder. Shred any papers that have your personal information on them, such as bank statements and rip off the stickers from product delivery boxes before you throw them away. You don’t want garbage fishers to know your name and email address.
7. Choose your passwords smartly. Don’t include personal information in your passwords. A lot of people do that because it’s easy to remember, but what they don’t think of is that someone who is trying to steal your identity already has a lot of information on you, so guessing passwords that include personal information will be a piece of cake for them. Don’t include yours or your parents’ names, your pet names, birth date, SSN, or any other information that might be easily guessed. And don’t use the same password for all your accounts. They might be more difficult to remember, but you can write them down and hide the paper in a locked drawer.
8. Make your computer as safe as possible. Install anti-virus software and a firewall and try to limit access of other people to your computer. Also, have it password protected.
9. Be careful when you use an ATM. Make sure nobody spies on you and gets your PIN number. Even if nobody is around you, make sure you cover the number panel with the palm of your hand when you type in your PIN. It might sound silly, but you never know when someone might sneak up behind you and see your PIN.
10. When someone calls your home and you don’t know them, don’t give up your personal information. They might pretend to be somebody they’re not. Ask them a lot of questions before you give out any information.
Ok, now you know how to protect your identity, but what happens if you’ve already had the misfortune to have your identity stolen? Here are a few things that you can do to ease your pain:
1. Act quickly. This is not something you want to delay. Call the credit bureau and have them put a fraud alert on your credit reports. Then give a call to your local police department and any other relevant authority. If you suspect a mail theft, call your post office etc.
2. Change access information to all your accounts. You have to do anything possible so stop the thieves as soon as possible so they don’t do more damage than they’ve already done. Change your account password, PIN numbers, and obtain new account numbers for all your accounts. If case be, change your driver’s license number and even your Social Security number. Contact all utility companies to make sure nobody tries to open an account in your name.
3. Keep track of your actions. Write down the names and phone numbers of all the persons you’ve contacted to resolve this matter. You might need their information in case you want to contact them later.
And on the lighter side, if you haven’t watched the comedy Identity Theft yet, now would be a great time to see just what can happen when someone steals your identity. Of course, reality can be even worse (or not), but it never hurts to have a laugh: