Every year, about 17 million people become victims of identity theft. Identity theft occurs when a malicious person or organization steals personal information like your Social Security number bank or credit card information and uses it for their own gain. Here are some easy steps you can take to reduce your risk of identity theft.
1. Use strong passwords
As the world becomes increasingly digitized, it also becomes more and more important to safeguard your digital data. Create strong passwords to reduce your risk of being hacked. Passwords like “1234,” “password” or names and birthdays are easier for hackers to guess. Strong passwords are typically at least 8 characters long and contain a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols. Just be sure to write them down in a safe place!
2. Protect personal information
Don’t give out personal information such as Social Security number or credit card and bank information unless you know and trust the site or person you are giving it to. Don’t carry physical cards that contain valuable information (such as Social Security and Medicare cards) unless absolutely necessary.
3. Secure your mail
When possible, don’t leave mail sitting in your mailbox for long periods of time. Most people do not have locked mailboxes, meaning their mail is vulnerable. When mailing sensitive items such as payments, try to use secure locations like U.S. Postal Service mailboxes or post offices.
4. Get safer credit cards
By now, most companies have switched over to EMV credit or debit cards. EMV cards, also known as chip cards or smart cards, are much more difficult to hack than the traditional magnetic strip cards. If you don’t have one already, call your credit card provider and ask about switching to an EMV chip card.
5. Shred unnecessary documents
Experts recommend holding on to documents like loan documents, investment information, and tax returns. However, documents that are sensitive but that don’t need to be kept (like credit card receipts or billing statements) should be shredded. Preapproved credit offers should also be shredded, because they often contain personal information.
6. Install firewalls and virus detection
If you use a personal computer, make sure to protect it with firewalls or virus-detection software. These can also help protect you from malware and other computer security threats.
7. Review your credit
People are eligible to receive one free credit report per year from each of the three largest credit bureaus (Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian). Checking your credit report helps you make sure nobody has opened an account in your name, without your knowledge. Additionally, check credit card and bank statements to make sure no unauthorized transactions were made.