Every time you turn around, it seems another retailer is reporting a hack. This probably makes you even more than your personal information can be stolen very easily and use fraudulently.
While having your credit card information stolen is awful, a stolen identity is even worse. It can affect everything in your life and affect everything from getting a loan to even landing a job (or worse). Here are things you can to do ensure your personal information is not stolen.
TIPS TO HELP PREVENT IDENTITY THEFT
1. Do an annual checkup. Every person is allowed to receive a free credit report every year from AnnualCreditReport.com (do not use other sites as you may not be able to trust them). Review all items on the report for accuracy and if you find any discrepancies at all, report them at once.
2. Be aware. When you are out and about, make sure you pay attention. Watch for people standing too closely when at the ATM or entering your PIN information at the register. You can cup your hand around the numbers for an added level of security.
In addition, make sure that your bag, purse or wallet are never unattended — or even just hanging on the back of a chair at a restaurant. Doing so makes them easy for a thief to quickly grab and be on their way. If you carry a purse, make sure it zips close rather than remains open or closes with a snap, as this can defray potential pick pockets. Men should always carry their wallets where they can feel them close to their body – really avoiding the back pocket or inside of your jacket (you might consider tethering your wallet if you will be doing much walking in public).
3. Watch your accounts. Keep a very close eye on your account transactions. Often times, hackers will do a test purchase, which is a very small amount — usually less than $1 (can even be just 1 or 2 cents), just to see if the number will work. That will then be reversed, so you think it was just an error. This is a HUGE red flag to consumers and banks that your are at risk for fraud. If you find this on your account, contact your bank at once and request a new card immediately.
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4. Be cautious of the data you carry. Never carry every credit card you own. Instead, opt for just one or two at the most. If your wallet is stolen, then you will have only two cards to have to worry about rather than the 5 or 6 you may own. You should also “sign” your card with “SEE ID” to require merchants to view your ID when using it. If you are shopping and the cashier does not do this, make sure you alert the manager right away as this is not only important to you, but other shoppers as well.
Even more importantly than a credit card — Never, ever, ever, carry your social security card in your wallet. This should be kept at home or in a bank, in a safe place. This is the one piece of information thieves need to truly steal your identity, which can result in loss of time (and even money) for you to correct. Of course, if you need this card when going somewhere, you will have to keep it with you. Just don’t put it in your wallet, but rather, keep it on yourself where it can not be stolen.
Leave blank checks at home. I actually never carry my checkbook with me. It stays at home. That way, no one can have instant access to my bank information, since checks including routing and account information on them.
5. Dispose of documents properly. Shred any documents with important information on them — especially credit card applications. Your shredder should be a cross cut and not just long strips as those can be taped back to together easily.
When you receive a new credit or debit card, “slice and dice” your old one. it isn’t enough to just cut in half anymore. Take the time to cut it up into smaller pieces, making sure that the numbers are unrecognizable.
Make sure your mail box is not accessible. If you live in an area, such as we do, where the mail is in a lock box, you are pretty safe. However, if you still have a traditional mailbox, you might want to spend the money to upgrade to one that locks. The mail can go in easily by your carrier, but the only way to remove it is to unlock it.
Don’t put your outgoing bills in your mailbox with the flag up. This is a red flag to thieves (pardon the pun). Your bills can be stolen out of your box which provides them with account information as well as instant access to your bank account. Instead, take a minute to drop them into a location which can only be unlocked by postal carriers (such as lock boxes or mail boxes).
6. Be cautious online. It is important to upgrade your passwords at least annually. It is also good to not use only one single password for every one of your accounts, as if one is hacked, a thief could gain instant access to every online account you have.
Your password must be something other than 12345 or ABCDE. It is best to avoid birthdays, anniversaries and other information, as thieves can often find that information out on line. Instead, opt for a phrase and turn it into a password. For example:
Oh How I Wish I Were on Vacation Again In the Bahamas
It is even better to make your password more secure by adding in upper and lower case letters:
Oh How I Wish I Were on Vacation Again In the Bahamas
You can take this one level higher by adding in numbers or characters
I had so much fun on June 7 in the Bahamas with my 5 Friends
If you do shop online frequently, you can purchase gift cards to use instead of your debit or credit cards. This way, if the information is stolen, they have access only to the funds on that card and not full access to your accounts (this can be a safe practice when shopping in the stores as well).
If purchasing gift cards is not an option, you might just use one single card for all of your online purchases. This way, if your information is ever compromised, it is just one card you will need to address rather than several.
Never, ever answer unsolicited emails. Reputable financial institutions will never send you an email asking you to verify your account information. If you do get one of these and are not sure if it is legitimate or not, contact the company to find out if they did in fact ask for this data.
Make sure you also use a strong firewall and security software to protect someone from hacking into your account or installing malware to track your activity.
7. If it happens, don’t panic. If you do find that you are the victim of theft, there are things you should do right away – but try to remain calm. Most financial institutions have fraud protection on accounts, to help protect consumers. (You might check with your financial institutions to learn what they offer and if it is not enough coverage, considering moving).
You should contact all of your card companies and/or bank at once. I recommend you keep a list of the credit card account numbers, pins and contact information on a form, somewhere in your home. This way, you can pull this information out and have an entire list of whom to contact, should this happen.
File a police report. This way, there is a record on file should charges ever become necessary. It may also be required by your insurance company. You will also want to read more about what to do, as released by the Federal Trade Commission.
Sure, using cash is absolutely the best way to protect yourself from this happening, but that isn’t possible for everyone. There are also cases where you do everything correctly and your information is still compromised.
Just make sure that you do take the precautions necessary to try to prevent yourself from becoming a victim. And, if it does happen, act quickly to minimize the loss and to get your life back on track.