The subject of how to prevent identity theft is so vast it can be overwhelming. You might think, “I know protecting my identity is important, but I don’t know where to start.” If so, you’re not alone. But protecting your sensitive information doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, common sense and a little knowledge is often the best place to start. Here are 5 easy ways to help protect yourself from identity theft.
1) Lock Your Door
Always lock the door to your home: when you leave, when you get home, or if you’re walking down the street to check the mail. This simple act reduces the chance that a stranger will wander into your home for any reason.
Consider this. You leave the house for 10 minutes to check the mail and chat with a neighbor; seems innocent enough. But for an opportunistic thief with a smartphone, that’s 10 minutes to take snapshots of the bills sitting on your desk, the credit cards in your wallet, the list of passwords in that handy (yet insecure) notebook labeled “Passwords.” The thief leaves and you never even know he was there…
“Okay,” you say, “It makes sense to lock when you leave. But when I’m at home? Who’s going to come in when I’m here?” The answer is all types of people, including petty thieves and worse. Locking your door when you’re at home is a good rule for personal and information safety.
2) Lock or Password-Protect Your Phone
A password is your mobile phone’s first defense. Smartphones function as hand-held computers, storing lots of your information. Got an app for your email account(s)? What about your bank account, or your prepaid debit card? If your phone isn’t password protected, it’s an open book for anyone who gets their hands on it.
It might even be an open book for people who “shoulder surf,” looking over your shoulder or at your screen while you obliviously tap and swipe. Consider a privacy screen to protect you from wandering eyes and covert camera activity. Identity theft protection can be, in this case, literally in the palm of your hand.
3) Lock/Password-Protect your Tablet and Computer
Just like your mobile phone, it’s important to password-protect your tablet and computer. Using an unlocked device is convenient for you, allowing you to open it at any moment and get straight to work (or play). But that also makes stealing identity info easy for anyone else. If three seconds sounds like too much time to spend typing in a password, consider how much time you’ll have to spend if your identity is stolen.
4) Be Wary of Unsecured Wi-Fi
Public unsecured WiFi hotspots attract WiFi-only cellphone users of all ages, and keep many of us coming back to our favorite hangouts. We connect to “coffeehouse” WiFi and never think twice about that little warning that inevitably appears: “Information sent over this network might be visible to others.” Why is that? Perhaps it’s because we don’t know what that means. Let’s shed a little light on the subject.
An unsecured WiFi network is one that requires no authentication to establish a network connection. When you join one of these networks, eavesdroppers can see data you’re transmitting — as if using your device directly — and distribute malware to it. Be sure to take proper precautions when using unsecured WiFi and turn off your device’s WiFi connection when it’s not in use… because even if you haven’t actively connected to a network, the WiFi hardware in your device will continue to transmit data between any network in range.
5) Handle “Snail-Mail” with Care
Even in the days of online bill pay and mobile banking, we all get “snail mail.” And while it’s neither mobile-responsive nor flashy, it still warrants our attention. Here are some best practices to make sure the financial information in your mailbox avoids unwanted attention:
· Retrieve incoming mail daily. Going on vacation? Put a stop on delivery while you’re out of town. A night-time drive-by to snatch mail left overnight is as easy today as it was 20 years ago.
· Shred junk mail with ANY identifying or personal information on it. Don’t throw away that unwanted credit card offer without shredding it; it’s got valuable info that a third party could use to compromise your finances and identity.
· Drop outgoing mail at the post office. The red flag on your mailbox is a signal to your postal worker, and everyone else, that you’ve got outgoing mail. In one swift action, someone could swipe outgoing payments to any of your accounts. What an easy way to get credit card numbers, billing addresses, and checking account info!
There are many ways that your financial information and identity could be compromised, but that doesn’t mean you need to be paranoid. Taking a few moments during your day to stop and consider security is a great way to create habits that will protect you today and in the future. And when new technologies emerge, be aware that new scams will, too. A little common sense and research will help you to understand most risks.