Did you know that last year alone at least 12 million Americans were victimized by identity theft and that it cost them an average of nearly $5000? Having your identity stolen can have a disastrous effect on your life. It can not only cost you money but could hurt your ability to get new credit or even a new checking account. This means it’s important that you do everything you can to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft and here are 9 simple things you could do to protect yourself.
Stop those pre-approved credit card offers
Get off the mailing lists for all those pre-approved credit card offers. These are a veritable goldmine for thieves who want to steal your identity. You can stop those offers by calling 1-888-567-8688 from your home phone or go to www.optoutfreescreen.com. This is a service of the three credit bureaus and you will need to give your Social Security number if you call by phone. You can avoid having to give your SS number by going online to opt out. You can also stop other junk mail by going to www.dmachoice.org.
Make stronger passwords
Your passwords should include a minimum of 12 keystrokes and not the eight characters that are often advised. This just makes it much harder for hackers that use automatic programs to crack your passwords. Here is a good tip. To make it easier to recall passwords when you mix numerals, upper- and lower-case letters and symbols, try using your favorite poem or song as a guide. As an example of this, Robin Thicke’ song “Blurred Lines” could become blinesRT@! You could then add or change a different letter or number on each of your accounts for the best protection.
Use the post office or a secure USPS drop box
Mail all of your outgoing bills at one of these locations and not your unlocked home mailbox. This is because thieves often cruise neighborhoods looking for those little upright flags that indicate outgoing mail. They then steal envelopes that contain checks and are addressed to credit card issuers, mortgage companies and other vendors. This not only reveals your account information but thieves can actually “wash” the checks to steal money from your bank account. Another good idea is to retrieve incoming mail soon after it’s delivered to you.
Get antivirus software
A lot of the cell phone companies and Internet providers offer their subscribers free malware and antivirus software. Many of the top vendors also offer free downloads such as Avast, BitDefender, AVG and MalwareBytes. Which would be best for you? The following video describes the most popular free anti-virus programs and their strengths and weaknesses.
Protect your smart phone
It’s important to protect your smart phone with a PIN that wouldn’t be easy for a thief to figure out. Set your smart phone onto auto lock and make sure that you install an app that tracks location such as the one that’s already on iPhones but that must be activated.
Get your free credit report
You can get your credit reports free once a year from each of the three credit reporting bureaus – Experian, Equifax and TransUnion – or from www.myfico.com for $19.95. It’s important to get your reports and review them regularly because this is how you would be able to discover fraudulent credit accounts that have been opened in your name. There is also a service called the Credit Report Card where you can monitor your credit for free. It will actually update your credit scores monthly.
Buy a crosscut shredder
Dumpster diving is nasty and not very quiet but is still responsible for 4% of all ID theft cases. This means you should consider shredding items with your name, phone number and address – especially those that have key personal identifiers such as account numbers, PINs, passwords, birth dates and your social security numbers.
A good rule of thumb is to never click on links that are in emails from people you don’t know or people who say they are from some government agency. Your Uncle Sam usually sends its correspondence by snail mail. Also, don’t provide your Social Security number or other critical information to people you don’t know who called you. When you browse the Web, it’s better to type addresses into address lines rather than using links found through search engines.
Watch your doors and drawers
Be sure to keep your doors and drawers secure. Your information can’t be stolen by an identity theft that can’t access it. Make it a point to keep your computer, bank and credit card bills, Social Security cards, birth certificates and any other vital documents that have your personal information in locked drawers or behind closed and locked doors. And this may seem harsh but you need to be careful about the people who have access to your home such as work crews, household employees and even members of your family.
Avoid those identity protection services
There are a number of companies that offer ID theft protection services. They normally charge anywhere from $12 to $20 a month – or even more. The fact is you really don’t need one of these services because there is essentially nothing they can do for you that you can’t do yourself. You can protect your identity by monitoring your credit reports on a regular basis and by following the simple tips provided here. Your credit cards most likely include theft protection – limiting your liability to $50. And your bank should automatically report any suspicious activity on your checking or savings account and if it won’t, find another bank.