Cases of identity theft are on the rise. In 2014, 1 in 7 U.S. residents were a victim of the crime. That equates to over 17 million people. Last year, 25 people in Minnesota were indicted on both bank fraud and identity theft charges.
With more people making purchases and doing their banking online, it’s becoming increasingly important to take steps to protect your identity. All it takes is one thief to steal your personal information and ruin your financial life.
1. Change and Strengthen Your Passwords
Make it a point to change your passwords frequently, and use strong passwords when you do. Consider using a random combination of numbers, letters and special characters, and make sure that you set a different password for each account.
Some people prefer to use a password manager to make it easier to log into different accounts. Password managers eliminate the need to remember your password for each account, but there are risks with using these services, too. Setting up two-factor authentication can help protect your password collection and will make it harder for thieves to get in.
2. Be Careful about the Information You Share
Limit the personal information you share online. Check your Facebook account. Can strangers see your birthdate, full name, phone number and/or family member names? If so, you’re making it easier for them to steal your identity.
Identity thieves often pose as bank or credit card company employees and will ask you for personal information when calling. No legitimate organization will ask for your personal information, such as your Social Security number, over the phone.
If possible, try to avoid sharing personally identifiable information, such as your birthday, phone number and address. If you must include this information, you could give false information, but you’ll need to keep your lies straight if you want to maintain your accounts.
3. Check Your Credit Reports
Every U.S. citizen is entitled to one free credit report each year from each of the three major credit bureaus. To keep tabs on your identity, make it a habit to request one report every four months. By taking this approach, you can regularly check for suspicious or erroneous information.
Be on the lookout for large, unexplained changes to your credit report.
4. Buy a Shredder
Credit card and bank statements can easily be fished out of the garbage by thieves. If you still receive paper statements, invest in a good paper shredder and use it often.
Make sure that you shred junk mail, too, especially pre-approved credit offers.
5. Keep an Eye on Your Financial Statements
Take the time to actually read through your bank and credit card statements. Look at each charge and withdrawal. If you notice anything suspicious, contact your bank or credit card company right away.
Also, read through your health insurance claims to make sure you received the care that you paid for.
It’s easy to toss your statements in the trash, but doing so could cause you to miss a suspicious charge and give thieves access to your finances.