We all have the best intentions when it comes to safeguarding our personal information from identity thieves. Checking credit reports, securing important documents and regular shredding may be at the top of our to-do lists. Then work, family—in short, life—get in the way.
We get it, so we’ve made it easy. Just follow these five simple steps to reduce your risk immediately:
1. Shred it. Identity thieves love recycling your trash, 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, credit card checks and insurance-related materials.
2. Guard it. Encrypt emails and computer files that contain personal or account information. Use firewalls, antivirus and anti-spyware programs. Protect your smartphone as you would a computer. Keep all your technology current with the latest security updates. Always employ “strong” passwords that contain numbers, symbols and characters. Don’t use obvious passwords, such as your date of birth, child’s or pet’s name or 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.
3. Lock it up. Keep doors and drawers secure. Identity thieves can’t steal your information if they can’t get to it. Keep computers, paper files such as bank or credit card statements, passports, Social Security cards, earnings statements, birth certificates and any other documents with personal identifying information behind closed—and locked—doors or in locked drawers. Always be aware of who has access, such as household employees or work crews—and even family members.
4. Check your credit reports early and often. Review your credit reports from the three reporting agencies—TransUnion, Experian and Equifax—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.
5. 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 (SSN) and address will do. Never carry your SSN or card in your wallet or purse unless absolutely necessary, and never give out your number to anyone you don’t know and trust. Provide your SSN only when required, and, if any organization, company or medical provider attempts to use your SSN as an identifier, ask them not to (many laws prevent this, in fact).