You might think you’re safe from having your identity stolen. After all, you do your best to avoid scams online and in-person, you don’t visit any scary-looking websites and you pride yourself on not opening spam emails.
But the truth of the matter is that everyone is at risk for having their identity stolen and their personal information monetized. Now that we’ve got your attention, let’s talk about the worst things you can do if you want to avoid becoming an ID theft victim.
Common Signs of Identity Theft
Have you ever asked yourself, “What is my risk of identity theft?” Almost all of us have at some time or another. Especially if you’ve started to notice some things about your finances or online privacy that are raising a few red flags.
What kind of issues are we talking about? Here are some of the most common signs of ID theft:
- Bills stop coming in the mail
- Unexplainable bank withdrawals
- Checks being refused at retailers
- Collection calls for unknown debts
- Unfamiliar bank or credit accounts
- Data breaches at familiar businesses
- Unidentifiable notifications from the IRS
Now that you know what to look for when it comes to being victimized by an identity thief, let’s talk about the worst things you can do if you want to prevent identity theft…
7 Habits That Put You at Risk for Identity Theft
Did you know that some of the things you do (or don’t do) every day can put you in the crosshairs of hackers and scam artists? It’s sad but true! That might be the bad news, but luckily for you and your bank account, we’re going to help you identify and eliminate those bad habits.
1. You Only Check Your Credit Report Once a Year
Identity theft is no longer just about stealing credit card information to make unauthorized purchases. Cybercriminals have become much more sophisticated and have begun to actually use stolen info to take out fraudulent loans.
That means your name and Social Security number could be used to rack up thousands of dollars in debt. And guess who’s going to be held accountable for paying that money back? It’s definitely not the criminal that stole your identity in the first place, we can tell you that.
So, what can you do about this sneaky type of identity theft? You need to monitor your credit report every month for suspicious activity. If you don’t have the time to do this or you’re worried that you might forget, you can sign up for credit monitoring services that will do it for you.
2. You Send Sensitive Info in Emails
Have you ever used your work or personal email account to communicate with your bank or credit card company? Chances are that somebody else could read those emails, whether they’re co-workers or cybercriminals looking to dig up dirt on you.
Hackers have gotten better than ever at working their way into your emails to find the private information they need to steal your identity. That means you need to stop sending sensitive data like passwords or account numbers through email. Even to yourself!
3. You Don’t Keep Your Social Security Card Safe
Chances are that your mother told you to keep your Social Security card someplace safe when you first got it. But it’s a pain to dig it out when you need your SSN for important paperwork or to apply for a loan, so you just keep it in your wallet.
Big mistake! If you’re ever pickpocketed or simply lose your purse, your SSN will be one of the first things that identity thefts scoop up to steal from you and fraudulently open credit cards or bank accounts in your name.
Even though replacing your Social Security card can seem like a hassle, you should report it stolen immediately and make sure to memorize your SSN, so you can keep your most important piece of personal information safely stored away.
4. You Use the Same Simple Password for Everything
Dealing with different passwords is never fun, we get it. But if you’re using the same one for everything you do online, your chance of having your bank account hacked go up big time. Not to mention all of the other accounts you use that same password for online.
You need to have a unique password that’s difficult to guess if you’re truly interested in learning how to prevent identity theft. Passwords should never include your birthday, address, or any other easy-to-guess information. And you need to use a different one for every account.
5. You Don’t Review Your Financial Statements
If you signed up for auto payments through your bank, it probably makes your life a lot easier, right? But it also makes stealing your identity even easier for hackers. That’s why you need to keep an eye on what’s going on with your bank.
You should review your bank and credit card statements every month for any unauthorized charges. If you notice a transaction that you can’t remember making, you need to report the problem to your bank or credit card company immediately.
Many financial institutions put a limit on how much time you have to report fraudulent transactions. Typically, it’s 60 days for credit card companies and 7 days for banks. If you don’t alert them to the unfamiliar charges in that timeframe, you may end up losing any money that identity thieves stole from you.
6. You Keep Your Financial Info in Easy-to-Find Places
Similar to your Social Security card, you should be keeping your checkbook, debit card, credit cards, and PIN numbers in a safe location. This might seem like an unnecessary precaution, but think about how much damage a thief could do to your finances with what’s in your wallet.
You should memorize your PIN numbers, only carry your checkbook or credit cards when you know you’re going to need them, and do your best to do the same with your debit card. Not only will your finances be safer, but you might even save some money with this tip!
7. You Freely Give Out Private Information
If you get a call or an email from someone that says they work for your bank, would you give them your account or Social Security number without even thinking about it? Answering yes to this question could mean big trouble for you.
Your bank or credit card company should never ask you for this info over the phone or through an email. Not only do they already know it, but they also know that identity thieves will often spoof email addresses or phone numbers to appear as if they’re legit, and then use the info you give them to steal from you.
You should never give out private info in an email or over the phone. And if the caller insists, tell them that you don’t feel comfortable with the conversation, and would prefer to speak with someone in person. Period!
Summing it Up: How to Prevent Identity Theft
Never forget that identity theft can happen to anyone, at any time. You need to stay vigilant when it comes to protecting your identity. Following the above tips will definitely go a long way to keeping your personal info safe, but why stop there?
If you want to lower your risk of identity theft, your safest bet is to enlist the help of experts by signing up for one of the top-rated identity protection services on the market. You’ll be able to rest a lot easier knowing that someone is watching your back, and isn’t that worth it?