Identity theft is when someone steals your personal information like your full name, date of birth, address, and social security number, usually for fraudulent purposes.
Having obtained your personal details, the thief can now apply for credit cards, loans, medical services, and even file for tax returns in your name. These actions could impact your credit rating and often go unnoticed for a long time. In fact, you might be completely unaware that your identity has been stolen until your loan application gets rejected on grounds of bad credit or you receive a credit card bill for a card you don’t own.
How do you prevent identity theft?
With so much of our data online and everything run digitally, restricting who has access to our data can be a bit of a challenge, but put these points into action and you should be OK:
Protect your Social Security Number: Do not carry your Social Security card with you wherever you go but keep it in a safe place at home. Don’t write you SSN down anywhere and don’t give it out to anybody unless absolutely necessary. Always be sure to know who you are giving your SSN to and for what purpose.
Use strong passwords: Make sure that you have good passwords for your online banking accounts or for any account that could be used to steal your personal information. Strong passwords are those that cannot be guessed easily by other people, include special characters, and have both upper and lower case. It is also a good idea to change your passwords at regular intervals. Make sure that all your devices that you use to access your online accounts have firewalls and an anti-virus software installed.
Track you snail mail: If you receive credit card and bank statements in the post, then make sure that you are receiving all your mail on time. Have a trusted friend or family member collect your mail for you if you are out of town or stop the mail being sent for that period. If you notice mail going missing or you are not receiving your bills, then have it looked into and even report it if you suspect theft.
Destroy old documents: Several identities have been stolen by digging into people’s trash. Don’t throw away your old bank and credit card statements, old cards or any other document that might contain sensitive information. All documents containing sensitive information should be destroyed by shredding or burning.
Don’t give information on the phone: There have been cases where unsuspecting victims have received phone calls claiming to be from their bank, credit card or insurance company requiring some details. In this way, many people have been duped into divulging personal information over the phone to someone who ultimately steals this data for personal gain. Be very cautious of such phone calls. Never reveal any sensitive data over the phone no matter how genuine the caller appears to be.
Do a credit review: Identity theft has been so successful because often the victim doesn’t know that their identity has been stolen till months or even years later. A good way to make sure that you have not been victimized is to check your credit ratings annually. If you notice anything suspicious like a drop in points or accounts that you haven’t opened, then report it immediately.
Identity theft is a serious crime that can wreak havoc in a person’s life if they have been an unfortunate victim. By taking a few precautions and being vigilant, it is possible to protect your personal data and ensure that your identity never gets stolen.