Identity Theft may be out of the headlines but that doesn’t mean it isn’t still a real problem. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, about 7% of the U.S population was the victim of identity theft in 2014, over $17 million people. The vast majority, 86% of those crimes involved misusing an existing account.
Protecting yourself starts with common sense around handling personal information and paper that contains personal information like account statements. Here are other steps you can take, some straight from the FBI.
1. Go to www.annualcreditreport.com and order a credit history at least annually.
If you find any problems, report them immediately. Also, close any unused accounts and add the notation that the account was closed at your request to avoid credit score issues. If you are worried, you can put a credit freeze on your credit report which will prevent someone from getting the report at all. No report, no credit.
2. Never, ever give personal information to anyone who contacts you by phone, text or email.
It is easy for such a request to look legitimate. To get fewer calls, put yourself on the National Do Not Call registry to have your number removed from commercial marketing databases. Either www.donotcall.gov or 888-382-1222 will work. Charities are exempt from this restriction, so be careful who you give to over the phone. It may not be legitimate.
3. Your mail is vulnerable, so eliminate pre-approved credit card offers.
Each of the major credit bureaus has an “Opt-out” service. Call 888-567-8688 (888-5-OPTOUT) or www.optoutprescreen.com to stop these offers. This will not negatively impact your credit rating. You can also call your credit card company and direct them not to mail you checks.
4. Another good step is to get off direct marketing databases.
Go to www.dmachoice.org to eliminate catalogues and other direct mail offers. This has another benefit – less mail to throw out!
5. Use better cards.
A credit card has much more liability protection than a debit card, so use credit cards for everything other than an ATM. EMV chip credit cards are now available, which is a much safer technology than the magnetic stripe cards. If you don’t yet have a chip credit card, get one and use it exclusively. This won’t protect you from all types of fraud, but it makes in-person retail transactions a lot safer.
6. Leave fewer footprints when online by deleting “cookies” and files.
As well, clear the history when you are finished. “DuckDuckGo” is a search engine, added to your usual browser that does not collect any personal information. Change your passwords frequently. Be careful also about your security questions as anyone with the answers can change your password. The answers don’t have to be true or even logical, so just use an answer you can remember. No one but identify thieves will check to see if it is correct.