8 Tips for Protecting Your Financial Identity
Identity theft is something that we are increasingly hearing more and more about, and it's scary. This typically occurs when thieves get a hold of your personal information such as your name and social security number to commit fraud, or drain your bank accounts. Apparently not everyone feels that they should work for a living . . .
Common ways that identity thieves get your information include:
A stolen wallet or credit cards
Documents or receipts in the trash
Phone or email scams
Hacking unsecured computers and wireless networks
Once identity thieves gain access to your personal information, the headache begins as they can make purchases on your credit card, open new credit card accounts, or even file a fraudulent tax return in your name. Trying to clean up the mess that identity fraud creates is incredibly convoluted and stressful, and it just wreaks havoc in your life. It can take months if not years to fix, and the effects can be felt for just as long. So taking steps to protect your personal and financial information is extremely important.
Here’s our 8 tips to help you do just that:
TIP #1 – Create Strong Passwords and Update Them Regularly
Create strong passwords by avoiding common or easy-to-guess passwords. Common passwords often include birth dates, a pet’s name, a mother’s maiden name, or your school or work. Instead, make your passwords a mix of capitol letters, at least one number, and other non-alphabetical characters. Change your passwords every so often to keep your accounts secure.
TIP #2 - Be Aware of What Information You Share
Everyone’s on social media nowadays, and it’s always surprising how much information people share publicly. A lot of this information could be used to authenticate a person’s identity. Don’t share or post your information online (such as: your address, phone numbers, birthday, social security number, or birth place)
TIP #3 – Keep Sensitive Financial and Personal Documents Secure
Most people store their personal and financial information on their computer. If you fall into this category, it’s important to protect your computer by installing a firewall, using anti-virus and anti-spyware software, keeping your computer and browser updated, and securing your wireless network. If you are disposing of physical copies of financial or tax documents, make sure you shred them. If you are keeping hard copies for your records, be sure to store them in a safe location, and don’t have them somewhere easily accessible or noticeable. Never carry around your social security card, this should be kept in the same safe location as your other important documents.
TIP #4 - Protect your Mobile Devices
We are able to do more than ever before while we are on the go. There is an app for everything, allowing us to bank online, depositing checks, transferring funds, track your investment accounts, do your taxes, we can even grocery shop and have it on your doorstep within an hour or two. Make sure that the apps that you download are from a reputable company, and check the ratings and reviews to see how the app actually performs and what it does and doesn’t do as well as what information the app is accessing on your phone (you’d be surprised!) Be sure to secure your device with a strong password (see Tip #1), and use your phone’s auto-lock feature to protect personal information. You can also use the same software that you used to protect your computer to protect your mobile devices. After all, you’re still using the internet, just on a much smaller screen, so hackers can still do some damage.
TIP #5 – Check Your Credit Report
You are entitled to one free credit report a year, which is compiled from information from the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.) Take advantage of this free report and look over it for any errors that might be present. If you notice that any information has been compromised, set up a fraud alert with the three major credit bureaus to put a freeze on your files and information.
TIP #6 – Don’t Fall for Phishing Scams
Phishing scams are emails that come from a party claiming to be a trustworthy entity like a bank, or a credit card company, asking you to click on a link and confirm personal details including your address, account numbers, and even your social security number. Legitimate, trustworthy companies will NEVER ask you to provide personal or sensitive information without first signing into your account behind a secure firewall. Another common scam circulating around is phone calls or emails claiming to be from the IRS asking for such information. The IRS will also never contact you asking for this information. Instead, if you receive letters or emails about this, forward them to: firstname.lastname@example.org. If you ever question the validity of an email or letter that you received asking you for information, do not respond directly to the email itself, instead call the company yourself and ask them to confirm whether or not it was sent by them.
TIP #7 – Protect Your Trash
Many thieves will sift through your trash looking for anything they can use. Whether it’s a credit card offer that you didn’t take advantage of, or pill bottles with information on them, letters from the DMV, really the list can go on and on. So be aware of what personal information you are putting in your trash. They sell I.D. Protector Stamps that allow you to roll it over your name and address on boxes, pill bottles, and letters, etc. that can block out all of your confidential information. This is a great alternative for people who do not own a shredder. Just block out any sensitive information and then it can be thrown away.
TIP #8 – Protect your physical Credit cards
Technology is great. It has made our lives incredibly more convenient. But the good guys aren’t the only ones in possession of technology. Did you know that a thief doesn’t even have to get a hold of your physical credit card anymore to steal it? They now have access to small machines that enables them to simply walk past you, and the machine can pull all of your credit card information from the cards that are in your wallet or purse that are chip-enabled. It’s amazing, and scary. So how are you supposed to combat this? RFID wallets or “sleeves” are widely available which protects your credit cards from this type of theft, by blocking the signal from these machines, preventing them from being able to access the information from your credit cards. Another very small price to pay to keep your information safe.
If you believe your identity has been stolen, it is important to put a hold on all of your bank and credit card accounts, change all of your passwords, and file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The information you provide to the FTC will enable them to build a case for any wrongdoing. Unfortunately, they won’t be able to get back any money that you lost, but they can help you to prevent any further fraudulent activity and conduct an investigation.
So long story short, it is beyond in your best interest to take a little time, and invest a very small amount of money to protect your financial information by implementing the 8 tips listed above. The headache, and lost income that comes along with having your identity stolen is something you do not want to have to deal with.
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