I wrote an identity theft post a little more than a year ago that was based on a Washington Post article that stated that identity theft hit 11.1 million victims a year for a total of $54 billion. That is astounding to me. Here are a few easy ways you can protect yourself from identity theft.
Preventing Identity Theft Tip #1 – Monitor Your Credit Reports
You are entitled to see a free copy of each of the main three credit reports every year. I personally use the official site, Annualcreditreport.com and spread out my enquiries. So I try to check Experian every April, Transunion every August, and Equifax every December. This way I am getting a solid report of my credit history every 4 months. If my identity is stolen to open a credit account, I will know fairly quickly and can start fixing the situation.
Preventing Identity Theft Tip #2 – Protect Your Documents
Another great step to keeping yourself safe is to keep a close handle on any of the documents that contain information like your sex, zip code, date of birth, and social security number. I would highly suggest shredding or burning the documents that you don’t need and keeping the rest like your mortgage documents in a locked storage cabinet or box. If you receive your mail in a regular, unsecured mail box, you may want to think of getting a P.O. Box instead. I know that step may be a hassle, but it is a safety step to be considered if you are worried at all about identity theft.
Preventing Identity Theft Tip #3 – Go Electronic
The less personal information you have in easily seen paper documents the better. Try to switch over to electronic statements and documentation whenever possible and choose passwords with a combination of letters, numbers, and/or characters that would not be easy to guess. Also remember to change those passwords frequently. I really, really dislike changing my passwords, but even I do it at least once a year. If you do go electronic, please make sure you have anti-virus software as well to protect you from the worms out there.
Preventing Identity Theft Tip #4 – Develop a Healthy Paranoia
Are all of your Facebook buddies out to get you? No, but if just one wrong person knows you will be out of town, you may find many documents missing when you get home that could help someone steal your identity. Also, giving any useful info out online like your date of birth helps the computer savvy thieves target you. I would highly suggest removing personal information from your online accounts. Don’t worry, you can always remind your friends and family in person when your birthday is coming up. That high school buddy that you haven’t seen for 10-20 years doesn’t really care anyway.
Can you think of any other easy ways to prevent identity theft? What have I missed?