Protecting your idenity

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Given all the hacks and data breaches these days, you should probably presume that your personal data has already been exposed. That it is on the dark web, known by criminals and they are either going to sell your data to other criminals or scheming to use it themselves. However, there are sound personal identity practices you can use to protect your identity from online thieves. Guarding against Identity theft is a responsibility, as well as a struggle every day.

You must protect your Social Security number (SSN). You will live in many different places in your life, you will have different account numbers, but you will always have the same Social Security number. Guard your Social Security number like the valuable product that it is. Be extremely careful in providing your Social Security Number to anyone and be sure that the person you are giving it to has a valid reason for needing it.

Never give out your SSN to anyone that calls on the phone unless you know the person. You shouldn’t just give your number to someone who calls “from (your doctor’s) office” that you don’t know.  Hang up and call the doctor’s office to see if they called and have a legitimate need for this number. Also don’t send your SSN to any website. The only websites that should need your SSN are the Social Security website or other government websites.

Beware of clicking on a website sent to you in an email. Phony websites are set up that mimic genuine websites. The safest thing to do is to type the web address (URL) into your browser.

You must consider your passwords and privacy settings very seriously. Granted, it is a real pain to use robust, complicated passwords, changing them frequently, and keeping your privacy settings set to high on your online accounts. It’s a much bigger problem to be the object of an identity fraud.

Be very, very careful what you share on social media. Social media sites are a fantastic place to connect with friends and family to let them know about what is going on in your life. They are also wonderful places to post your personal information that will aid thieves unintentionally or to let thieves know that you are on vacation so that they can visit your house and clean you out.

Review your credit report and credit card statements periodically. Make sure that you regularly check your credit report for fake accounts that are created using your identity. Sometimes a thief will make a small charge on your credit card account to see how closely you check your bill. You can check your credit score and read your credit report for free within minutes using several free websites

Mailboxes are a prime target for criminals. Most are left unattended with personal mail in them including financial information or credit card applications for at least part of the day. Don’t leave your outgoing bills in the mailbox. The raised flag notifies criminals that there is something inside to steal. If it is a payment, they will be able to get your bank account information off your check. For incoming mail, consider a locking mailbox that denies thieves easy access. Shred all discarded mail containing personal and account information instead of just throwing it out.

Watch what you do outside your home. Don’t leave your credit or debit card out in plain sight while making payments in stores. Don’t fill out deposit slips at the bank with your account information available to anyone looking over your shoulder. Don’t forget to cover the keyboard as you type in your PIN at your local ATM. Be careful when you connect to websites or apps through unsecure public Wi-Fi spots and transmit any personal information. All of these actions can give thieves access to your personal data.

Criminals that may already have your personal information will attempt to file a bogus tax form in an attempt to get your refund, before you even find out that your information has been stolen. Beat them to the punch by filing your return electronically as soon as you have all the required information.

Frequently you will get emails and solicitations just because your email address was in the address book of one of your friends whose accounts were hacked. This has happened to us. Phony Facebook accounts can be cloned and all the contacts of one of your friends can be compromised. Your “friend” will then send you a message sending you to a dangerous website. Either that or you will get a “Friend Request” from them. You can’t make everyone use the same level of protection that you do, but you can let them know how important it is to of do so.

Once you start thinking like a crook and look at all of the possibilities for personal information theft, you can make yourself safer. No strategy is air tight, but a good identity protection plan can go a long way in reducing your chances of becoming a victim of identity theft or fraud and having to deal with months or possibly years of trying to restore your credit.

Tagged with: Identity theft, Social Security number, passwords, Social media

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