When someone gains or has access to your personal information and uses it to intentionally defraud you in any way, he/she is guilty of identity theft. Among a myriad of other disastrous outcomes, thieves may gain access to your banking accounts and/or existing credit cards, or obtain new lines of credit or loans in your name. Recovering from identity theft is expensive and it may require several years to return to your previous financial state. Taking steps to prevent unauthorized access to your personal information is the first line of defense against identity theft.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, an estimated 8.6 million households had at least one person age 12 or older who experienced identity theft in 2010, rising from an estimated 6.4 million in 2006. Identity theft is on the rise and shows no signs of slowing, so it’s crucial for us as consumers to take precautions to help protect our personal information. The following 10 tips will help you better understand how to prevent identity theft:
• Never carry your Social Security card. Your purse or wallet is not a safe place for this document. Never give out your Social Security number unless absolutely necessary.
• Guard your PIN numbers and passwords. Never write a PIN on a credit/debit card or on a slip of paper kept in your wallet. It is best to memorize all of your passwords, and frequent use will keep them fresh in your mind.
• Use complex, unique passwords and change them frequently. Create a different password for each website or other security portal; do not use duplicate passwords. Never use personal information such as a birthday or Social Security number in a password, and be sure to change your passwords frequently.
• Be wary of shoulder surfers. When you use the ATM, be aware of others nearby. Use your free hand to shield the keypad from others in line for the ATM. Similarly, it’s important to be aware of people behind you while using a computer at home or work.
• Collect postal mail punctually and pay attention to your billing cycles. Ask the post office to put your mail on hold when you are away from home, whether you’re on a weekend trip or a lengthy vacation. When a bill does not arrive on time you may think it’s a gift, but in reality it could be a warning. If monthly bills or financial statements are late, contact the sender and find out why.
• Keep your receipts. Promptly compare all receipts with account statements and watch for unauthorized transactions. Early detection will mitigate losses.
• Use a crosscut shredder. Ensure that unwanted receipts, credit offers, account statements, expired cards, etc., are destroyed to prevent dumpster divers from getting your personal information.
• Don’t respond to unsolicited requests for personal information in the postal mail, over the phone, or via email or the Internet.
• Install quality Internet security software and virus-detection software on your home computer and other devices used to connect to the Internet. It’s important to fully understand how to use your Internet security software, and to keep it updated daily.
• Check your credit report at least once a year. Check your report immediately if you suspect someone has gained access to your account numbers, PIN numbers, passwords, or other personal information.
Unfortunately, people are continually and creatively finding new ways to gain access to personal information. Criminals are not only using computers to hack and phish personal information through unsecured networks and email scams, but they are also using traditional methods like pilfering your postal mail and sifting through your curbside trash. Identity theft can occur from any location, making identity thieves extremely difficult to catch, but keeping these 10 tips in mind can help you prevent yourself from becoming a victim. For additional, in-depth information on identity theft and fraud, click here to visit the Federal Trade Commission.
At Knapton, Reade & Woods, our job as independent insurance agents is to ensure that you remain protected from all of the risks you face, including identity theft. To get an insurance quote or to review your existing coverage to ensure that it is adequate, please call us today at 603-464-3422 or click here to submit our online quote form. For additional insurance resources and valuable safety tips, please read our blog, or visit us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+.