In our digital age, it’s a lot easier to get someone's personal information and also easier to use it. Identity theft is a serious crime, which happens when someone uses information about you without your permission. You are responsible for what the thief does while using your information. The thief could be buying things with your credit card, applying for new credit, and stealing your tax refund. All of which could disrupt your financial plan.
You can lower your risk of identity theft by doing the following:
1. Watch your wallet or purse. In case of loss or theft, photocopy the contents of your wallet. Make a copy of both sides of your driver’s license and credit cards and keep in a safe place. This way you know what was in your wallet and also have easy access to your credit card account numbers and phone numbers to cancel immediately.
2. File a police report. In the jurisdiction where your wallet was stolen, immediately file a police report. This shows to credit providers that you were diligent and is the first step to an investigation.
3. Notify credit reporting agencies and Social Security. Place a fraud alert on your name and also call the Social Security fraud line number. Any company that checks your credit will know your information has been stolen, and will have to contact you directly to authorize new credit. Here are the numbers to call: Equifax - 800.525.6285, Experian - 888.397.3742, TransUnion - 800.680.7289 and Social Security Fraud Hotline - 800.269.0271
4. Shred and dispose your personal information. When you receive bank statements or bills, shred them before throwing them away. When disposing of a computer or cell phone, follow instructions to completely wipe the hard drive and restore the device to factory settings.
5. Encrypt your information. Use secure networks and private browsers when you are sending information online. Avoid using public WiFi hotspots to send private information. Download PrivateWiFi app to encrypt your personal information when you are using public WiFi networks.
6. Be password smart. Don't use the same password for all of your accounts and use passwords that people cannot guess. Consider using an app that manages your passwords by only having to remember your super strong master password that unlocks your vault to your other sites. Consider downloading LastPass app. Be creative with different sayings, lyrics to a song, or a quote to create memorable strong passwords.
7. Keep your devices secure. Password-protect your computer and other devices, and use anti-virus software. Also don't click on emails that appear unusual or you do not recognize. Some emails contain viruses that can infect your personal devices and gain access to your information.
Identity theft is too common a crime to not be cautious and protective of your information. If you follow these seven tips, your chances of becoming a victim of identity theft are less. This issue is so important, I also posted an Identify Theft - How to Protect Yourself video on YouTube.
For more information about identity theft, visit the Federal Trade Commission’s webiste or the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s website.