Great Savings Tip #92 – Identity Theft

 
9 sure tips to thwart potential identity theft thieves.
 

Today’s Tip:  Protect Yourself  From Identity Theft

 

This tip is number 92 out of 100 in our Great Savings Tip Series—designed to help find ways to spend less and save more. For more ways to save money see our Great Savings Tips page with a complete list of all our tips.


 

The Problem

 

According to the Federal Trade Commission:

 

As many as 9 million Americans have their identities stolen each year…The crime takes many forms. Identity thieves may rent an apartment, obtain a credit card, or establish a telephone account in your name. You may not find out about the theft until you review your credit report or a credit card statement and notice charges you didn’t make—or until you’re contacted by a debt collector.

 

The Cost

 

Unfortunately, the cost of being a victim to this particular crime can be staggering, and that’s true whether you have lots of money or very little whatsoever.  Why?  Not only can thieves gain access and potentially steal your money, but their actions can negatively impact your credit score.  That means you could end up paying more your insurance, have a tougher time trying to rent an apartment, may be unable to qualify for a new mortgage, or may be turned down for a job.

 

Protecting Yourself

 

So how do you protect yourself?  Here are 9 must do steps to help prevent against I.D. theft:

 

(1) Learn more about identity theft. Discover how it takes place, and how thieves gather your personal information.  The more you know, the better armed you’ll be to prevent it in the first place.

 

Avoid family names and dates in passwords.

Make passwords harder to guess. Thieves love those who rely on simple strings of letters or numbers.

(2) Use passwords.  Using passwords on personal PC’s, laptops and even phones can save a world of hurt.  If your car is stolen and you leave a phone or laptop unsecured inside it, thieves may not only gain some of your personal data, but data for all the people you know, including, names, addresses, birthdays, etc. And just as important as having a password is updating it periodically. For more on this topic see our post: Great Savings #44 – Change Your Passwords.

 

(3) Create stronger passwords. If you’re using only one password for everything, or if you’re using an easy to remember one like your birth date or the names of your kids, your password may be much easier to hack than you think.  These days passwords should have a minimum length of 8 to 10 characters and include: letters (at least 1 but not all should be capitalized), numbers, and preferably at least 1 or 2 symbols like &, *, #, $, etc.  Inevitably we all write passwords down to remember them, but if you do that on a slip of paper or in an unsecured file on your PC or phone, thieves can find it.  A far better bet is to store them in a “Password Vault”.  This is a special piece of software that helps to store and maintain stronger passwords.  The nice part about a password vault is you only need to remember the password to your vault and it can handle the rest.  For a review of 5 password vault programs recommended by LifeHacker.com click here.

 

Shred all documents containing personal information.

Don’t leave ’em lying around.

(4) Shred personal data. Shred bills, receipts, statements and anything else that might show account numbers and other personal data, especially if you intend to throw these items in the trash.  Thieves steal paper data from trash or recycling containers so your only protection is shredding.

 

You mail contains all kinds of personal information.

Who has access to your box?

(5) Get a lockable mailbox. If your mailbox isn’t lockable, there’s nothing to prevent a potential I.D. thief from pulling your mail out of your box.  It can only take a minute and you may never even realize you’re a victim.

 

(6) Opt in to online only credit card, bank and investment statements. Eliminate the possibility of having your paper versions stolen by opting in to online statements.  Plus, online statements save trees and that makes them a much greener option.  For ideas about storing and backing up your computer files see our Great Savings Tip #37 -Protect Your Data.

 

(7) Watch your credit report for unusual activity. Watch out for a new account being opened in your name or any other suspicious activity.  Consider closing unused accounts.  You can get a free credit report annually at AnnualCreditReport.com, or you can sign up for any number of credit monitoring services (i.e. through your bank or otherwise).  Monitoring services will have a monthly or annual fee so check costs first.

 

A postman delivering mail.

Is someone watching your house or mailbox?

(8) Lock everything. Lock your car, your house, your filing cabinet, your mailbox, your phone and your computer.  Don’t leave personal data lying around.  Don’t assume your laptop or phone will be safe in a locked car.  Thieves can break into a car in a matter of seconds.  Don’t let mail pile up in an unsecured box.  Don’t store receipts and statements in an unsecured location.  A little common sense goes a long ways as thieves are looking for easy prey.  For more information on car theft, see our Great Savings Tip #71 Be Proactive Against Car Theft.

 

(9) Don’t give out personal data in email or over the phone.  Your email is not secure.  Count on it being read by people other than those you send it to.  Also, there are many so-called “phishing” scams, where thieves try to trick you into giving out your personal information.  The IRS does not send email requesting your social security number.  There are no “unclaimed accounts” just waiting for you at a bank if you only verify your account information by clicking on a link.  You should never be asked to verify a birth date or social security number to a company you don’t do business with.  If you get a call, make the caller wanting to verify your personal information or account numbers first prove who they are. If you’re uncertain about who they are or why they’re calling ask questions.  A little suspicion can go a long ways in protecting yourself against thieves.

 

For much more information on this topic, visit the FTC’s website and read their report on fighting back against identity theft.

 

To see a complete list of all our Great Savings Tips click here.

 

 

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