Identity theft: it sounds like something that’s part of a plot from a suspense movie, and like something that doesn’t actually happen in real life. Unless you’ve been through it personally, or know someone else who has, you may not think much about putting your identity at risk. But identity theft happens to real people each and every day, and it can be much easier than you think to become a victim. The following are just some ways that can put your identity, and your finances, at risk:
Unsecured Internet usage
You should always be sure that your at-home Wi-Fi is secured and password protected. If you’re using public Wi-Fi while on the go, understand the risks that come with using an unsecured Internet connection. Avoid logging into important accounts and paying bills whenever you’re using an open Wi-Fi connection. You’ll also want to always make sure—regardless of where you are or what network you’re using—that any website you’re logging into also has their own secured connection. You can double-check this by looking at the address bar and making sure that the URL begins with https, rather than just http. Otherwise, your encrypted information can easily be stolen by hackers on the same network. Even getting access to your email can lead to access to the rest of your accounts, so it’s imperative that you only log into secured websites.
Keeping certain information on you
If your wallet or purse is ever stolen or lost, there’s a good chance that you’ll also lose some credit cards in the process. However, as long as you notify your credit card issuers right away, they can be canceled before too much damage is done. Keeping very sensitive information on you, however—such as your Social Security card or birth certificate—makes you much more vulnerable to identity theft. Don’t put yourself at risk by carrying these things with you, and keep them in a safe and secured place.
Simply tossing mail in the garbage or recycling bin
From bills to credit card offers, a lot of the mail you receive contains a lot of personal information and sensitive data—the kind that can make you an identity theft victim if it falls into the wrong hands. Don’t take any chances by simply crumbling up unwanted mail and tossing it in the trash. Shred this type of mail completely (whether with a paper shredder or by hand) before disposing of it.
Not regularly monitoring your credit report
Your bank or credit card issuer may notify you if there is any suspicious activity on your accounts, but not necessarily. And while checking your credit card statements is also important in case any fraudulent charges were made, remember that in many cases of identity theft, new accounts are opened under the victim’s name. Routinely checking your credit report and carefully looking through everything is essential to ensure that there are no active accounts that you’re unaware of. By catching the problem early on, you can potentially stop a case of identity theft dead in its tracks, and before it snowballs into a huge mess that’s difficult (or impossible) to undo.
Nothing above is meant to provide financial, tax, or legal advice. You should meet with appropriate professionals for such services.