It is the fastest growing crime in the United States, and oftentimes it takes days, not weeks, for someone to realize they’ve become the victim of identity theft.
Here are his tips to avoiding the most common mistakes people make, allowing them – and their bank accounts – to become vulnerable.
Shred it. Identity thieves love recycling, but you can break their hearts by buying a quality crosscut shredder. Shred everything with your name and address, such as statements and invoices, receipts, return address stickers, envelopes, catalogs and especially pre-approved credit offers and credit card checks.
Build a wall around it. Encrypt emails and computer files that contain personal or account information. Use firewalls, antivirus and anti-spyware programs. Protect your Blackberry or iPhone as you would a computer. Keep all your technology current with the latest security updates and always employ strong passwords that contain numbers, symbols and characters. Dont use obvious passwords, such as your date of birth, your child’s name or your mother’s maiden name. Change passwords often, and don’t use the same one for online banking that you use for shopping or social networking sites.
Check your credit report early and often. Review your credit reports from the three reporting agencies: TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax. Remember to check it twice a year. Visit annualcreditreport.com, the government-mandated source for free credit reports. Investigate suspicious activity and stay on top of it until the matter is resolved.
Keep your Social Security number to yourself. It takes surprisingly little to set up fraudulent accounts and establish false credit in someone else’s name. Sometimes, only a Social Security number and address will do. Never carry your Social Security number or card in your wallet or purse, and never give out your number to anyone you don’t know and trust. Provide your Social Security number only when absolutely necessary, and if any organization attempts to use you’re the number as an identifier, ask them not to, as many laws prevent this.