Identity thieves have lots of ways to wreak havoc. Beyond clearing out your bank account or making purchases with your credit cards, with the right information they can create phony accounts in your name, and more. It can happen to anyone, especially in today’s digital age.
Here are some tips for reducing your risk.
1. WATCH FOR “SHOULDER SURFERS”
When entering a PIN or a credit card number at an ATM machine, on your phone, or even on a computer at work, be aware of who’s nearby, and make sure no one is observing the keys you’re pressing. If available, use a fingerprint scanner for identification, or activate facial recognition systems.
2. REQUIRE PHOTO ID VERIFICATION
In many cases, store clerks don’t look at the signature block on the credit card. Rather than signing the backs of your credit cards, you can write, “See Photo ID.” In cases where they do actually verify your signature, you can get some added security by directing them to make sure you match the picture on your driver’s license or other government-issued identification.
3. SHRED BEFORE YOU DISCARD
One of the ways would-be identity thieves acquire information is by “dumpster-diving” in your garbage cans. If you simply trash bills, credit card statements, credit card receipts, ATM receipts, medical statements, or even junk-mail solicitations for credit cards and mortgages, you’re begging for trouble.
Use a shredder and shred all papers that contain any of your personal identity information.
4. Destroy digital storage devices. When you sell, trade in, or dispose of a computer, hard drive, CD, DVD, or backup device, you need to take extra steps to ensure that your data is completely, utterly and irrevocably destroyed. Just deleting files or reformatting the hard drive is nowhere near enough; anyone with a little technical skill can undelete files or recover data from a formatted drive.
5. Be diligent about checking statements. If you’re conscientious about checking your bank and credit card statements each month, you’ll be aware if any of them don’t arrive, which can alert you that something might have been stolen from your mailbox. It can also help you ensure that all the charges, purchases or other entries on each statement match your records, so you can quickly identify and address any suspicious activity.
6. Mail your bill payments at the post office. If you aren’t using online banking to pay your bills, listen up: never leave paid bills in your mailbox to be sent out. A thief who raids your mailbox would be able to acquire a slew of critical information in one envelope – your name, address, credit account number, your bank information including the routing number and account number from the bottom of the check, and a copy of your signature from your check for forgery purpose. And that’s just for starters.
7. Require 2-factor authentication on financial and social media accounts. Add an extra layer of security to your personal online accounts beyond just signing in with your email address (or username) and password. Examples of 2-factor authentication include smartcards, USB thumb drives, encryption tokens that display randomly changing pin codes, or biometrics, such as fingerprint, retina-pattern, handwriting-style, or voice-pattern recognition. If someone does happen to obtain your password, they would still need a second piece of information to get into your account. Even social media accounts should have two-factor authentication enabled.
8. Analyze your credit report annually. The Big Three credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) have joined forces to provide consumers with access to a free credit report once a year. Websites like AnnualCreditReport.com andCreditKarma.com also provide free credit reports, as well as credit monitoring. You should review your report annually to make sure the information is accurate and to make sure there aren’t any suspicious entries, activity, or accounts that you aren’t aware of.