Your credit history is your biggest asset. It can help you score a job, a car and a house. It takes years of responsible fiscal behavior to build up a score you can be proud of. But if you get your identity stolen it can wreak havoc on your score. Just one incident of a compromised identity can erase years of hard work.
To ensure that you don’t become the next victim of identity theft, follow these 9 tips to keep your identity from being stolen.
Shred Your Documents
I hate when companies send mail with my personal information on it. My credit card used to send me a statement with my full credit card number on it. The IRS always makes sure to include my SSN on every page of correspondence. Countless others include more personal information than just your name and address.
When your personally identifiable information is on documents, shred it. Don’t just rip it in half, but really shred it good. Get a cross cut paper shredder that will completely eradicate all traces of your private information on any paperwork. Here’s a really good paper shredder I recommend. You should hopefully only need to buy one in a lifetime.
Be Careful Who You Share Your Information With
If you’re doing to tell someone enough information that they can steal your identity, you’ve got to be able to trust them. So never give out your info to anyone who initiates contact with you because you never know who they truly are. If you get an email or a phone call where they need to “verify” your information, delete the email or hang up on them.
When ordering something online, only shop from trusted sources. Make sure the page you’re inputting your credit card information says https in the address bar, so you know your information is being sent encrypted. If you find a really good deal at an unknown website that may seem fishy to you, use your PayPal account to pay. That way, you’re not sharing your credit card information and you’re also protected in case the item never arrives, as PayPal will refund you the money if you file a claim.
Keep Your Social Security Number A Secret
Identity thieves can do major damage if they have your social security number. They can open credit cards in your name, run up charges and never pay the bill. Then months (or years) later you’ll apply for credit and be denied because of these delinquent accounts.
To avoid being another statistic keep your SSN under wraps. Nobody legally is required to obtain your SSN. A company may ask you for it, but that’s just their company policy, not the law. If a business asks you for your SSN to do a credit check and you don’t want to furnish it, you can instead choose to place a deposit on your account.
Keep Your Cards At Home
Purses and wallets are stolen all the time. Frequently, thieves are not after your cash, but after your documents. Sure they’ll take your cash and buy a few beers. Sure they might use your credit card to make a few unauthorized charges. But it’s your social security card or passport they want. They can sell these on the black market for a pretty penny.
You don’t ever need to carry your social security card with you and unless you’re traveling you don’t need to carry your passport around either. As for your credit cards, you can carry just the one card you plan on using. You can also use Google Wallet so you can pay at many retailers using your smartphone. This way you can truly be safe and keep all your cards at home.
Check Your Credit Report
Due to the rash of identity theft crimes, the government now allows you to check your credit report for free every twelve months. You can make it a habit to check it every year after the new year or after you file your taxes.
The only official site to review your report is: AnnualCreditReport.com. If you notice anything untoward take action immediately before the situation gets worse.
Freeze Your Credit
To truly protect your credit score, you can “lock” your credit with Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. When your account is frozen, nobody (not even you) can apply for credit. If you haven’t already been a victim of identity theft, there is a small charge for this. Depending on the state you live in, the fees range from free to $10 per agency.
This is a good idea if you already have a car and a house, don’t plan on opening a new credit card and have no plans to ask for a loan anytime soon. If you are, not to worry, you can un-freeze it for a period of time or for a particular bank/company.
Hide Your Important Documents
When a thief breaks into your house, they may not be looking to steal your Xbox or laptop. When they rummage through your drawers they may not be looking for jewelry. They want your documents. For thieves, it’s easier to sell your information than it is to sell or pawn your goods.
It is imperative that you hide (or lock up) your social security card, tax forms and travel documents. If you put your items in a safe that isn’t bolted down, they’ll simply take the whole safe. So hiding them in your top secret hiding spot is a better option.
Protect Your Information Online
Thieves love the anonymity the online world gives them because it reduces the chances of being caught stealing. To reduce the chances of being a victim of online identity theft, be careful who you share your information with. Here are a few savvy tips:
- Don’t click on links in emails. If you get a message from your bank, type the url of your bank directly in the address bar to ensure you won’t become the victim of a “phishing” scam.
- Add a password to your wireless connection. Not only do you prevent neighbors from leeching off your internet but hackers can get into your network and steal your valuable data.
- Use complex passwords. There are programs hackers use that will attempt to break into your accounts. Once they know your username or email, their program will attempt to guess your password. It will go through a list of all names, cities, words, numbers and more. To thwart them, use a password that includes at least 3 of the following: uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers and special characters. This will make it exponentially more difficult for the program to guess your password.
Erase Your Hard Drive
Before you sell your tablet, smartphone, computer or an old hard drive, completely wipe it clean. You don’t need to be an expert on computing to be able to do it. Just Google “how to erase data on a [name of product]”. This goes for selling it on eBay, gifting it to a friend or donating it. You never know whose hands your data will end up in.