If it hasn’t happened to you, most likely you know someone who has been the victim of identity theft. It can be a scary thing and the destruction can range from minimal to catastrophic for your personal finances and peace of mind. Though identity theft can happen to anyone, there are some steps and precautions you can keep in mind.
- Use a photo ID rather that signing your credit and debit cards. If your cards happen to fall into the wrong hands, don’t make it any easier for them to use your card or forge your signature. If a vendor requires a signature, instead provide your photo ID as confirmation of your rightful ownership of the card. Most vendors won’t give you a hard time about taking this extra precautionary step.
- Take a second look at credit card and bank statements when they come in to email or mail. Scan through each itemized purchase on your account and make sure that you recognize each one. If you don’t, dig deeper. Many times a identity thieves will test your account by making a small purchase and/or they will use it to make several small purchases. These types of purchases tend to fly under the radar and go unnoticed or are a crescendo to a larger, more damaging purchase later one.
- Regularly review your credit report. Even once a year is important. Staying on top of your credit in general is a good thing, but it can also bring red flags to the forefront, you may not have otherwise known about.
- It may seem like old news, but it’s still just as important as ever to protect your social security number. Other than financial applications, medical or educational processing, there really is no good reason for anyone to ask you for this information. Don’t be afraid to push back or decline providing your social, when asked. If it is truly required, the case will be made. The less your social is floating out there, the better.
- Common sense dictates when it comes to any purchase, but be even more leery when shopping online and traveling domestically and abroad. If there is any question at all about whether a vendor is reputable or not, err on the cautious side always. This is also true for online retailers. If you receive a warning from your browser that a site is an unprotected or flagged as suspicious, leave!
- Email fraud is becoming more and more prevalent. We’re not talking about the African Prince who wants to give you one million dollars if you’ll just provide your bank account details. We’re talking about emails that seem legitimate from someone you know. Hackers are extremely sophisticated. Many times they will drop a link and ask that you click on it in some form of what seems like legitimate communication. If something seems off or the from email account looks a bit odd, chances are it is. Don’t click any links or open attachments. Doing so, can give hackers immediate access to your computer files and personal information.
It’s always important to be aware, but not afraid. Educating yourself is the biggest benefit you can provide in an effort to avoid being the victim of identity theft. If you think you have been victimized, call your banking institution, credit card providers and report suspicious activity immediately. They have action plans in place to shut down further fraudulent activity and will take steps to protect and open a case for your situation. To learn more about identity theft and fraud, visit the USA.gov page about ID theft.