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Every once in a while, I look around and wonder what the hell is wrong with people. Personally, I’ve always been somebody who enjoys working hard and finding new and creative ways to earn my keep. The thought of actually stealing has never even occurred to me.
If you stop and think about it, we live at maybe the coolest time to be alive in the history of the world. New technologies have made new scientific discoveries almost commonplace. Many have made life easier and more convenient than it has ever been before for huge groups of people. I mean, if I can’t get my McDonald’s fries in 30 seconds, I start to get pissed! Inventions like the internet provide a wealth of opportunities for communication, learning, and making money. Unfortunately, access to all of this information has also made it easier for thieves to steal your personal information…and your money.
So, here we are, living in the greatest time to be alive, having to worry about somebody ruining our financial lives. If you’ve had your accounts hacked or your identity stolen, you already know what a PIA it can be to clean it up. It can also create a financial nightmare. So, the best thing to do is to protect your identity so it never gets stolen in the first place. Here are 11 simple steps you can take to protect yourself from fraud and identity theft.
12 Ways to Protect Your Identity
1) Protect Your Social Security Number
By now, most people know they should be careful about giving out their social security number. Identity thieves can use your social security number to open fraudulent credit cards, financial accounts, and more. So, don’t give it out unless it’s necessary. You’ll also want to refrain from carrying your card in your wallet/purse and from writing it on checks. Store it somewhere safe and only bust it out when necessary.
2) Watch Your Accounts Closely
Monitoring your bank accounts and your bills is a great financial practice. In addition to protecting your identity, monitoring your accounts can save you money. (I can’t tell you how many times we’ve found mistakes on our bills. Seriously, we’ve saved thousands over the years just by paying attention.) Check your bills and bank statements at least once a month for any suspicious activity. Keep an eye on your situation and you’ll be prepared to take action quickly.
3) Monitor Your Credit Score
One of the first indicators of identity theft could be a change in your credit score. That’s why it’s smart to monitor your credit score on a regular basis. You can sign up to receive credit scores and credit monitoring alerts at any number of different websites like Credit Sesame. Just be aware that these sites typically only provide information based on one credit report. So, if that particular report doesn’t show new activity, the free version of these sites may miss it. However, most credit monitoring sites do have the option to monitor all three credit reports as an upgrade.
#4) Consider an ID Protection Service
If you’re at a higher risk for identity theft or are extremely concerned that your identity may be stolen, you may want to purchase a plan from an identity protection service like LifeLock. At LifeLock, they’ll use a three-step process to protect your identity. First, they’ll monitor your information for suspicious activity linked to the opening credit lines, loan applications, or services in your name. Next, they’ll send you an alert if they find anything. Finally, their Identity Protection Agents will guide and help you restore your identity. They back it all with a $1 million stolen funds guarantee.
5) Check Your Credit Report
By law, you are entitled to one free credit report each year from each of the 3 major credit bureaus. Make sure to use this service. To obtain your free reports, just go to AnnualCreditReport.com. Comb through the reports, making sure that all of the information provided to the credit bureaus is up-to-date and accurate. You’ll also need to look for any fraudulent activity, like accounts being opened up in your name. If you find any, contact one of the credit bureaus to place a fraud alert immediately. You’ll also want to dispute the account and file a report with the FTC.
6) Shred Your Documents
Some identity thieves will go to great lengths to steal your information. That includes digging through the trash. As gross as that sounds, it still happens. That’s why it’s important to shred any documents containing important account numbers or other information that can be used to identify you. Tearing and cutting stuff up might work if you cut them into small enough pieces. You’ll be better off, though, if you just buy a cheap and effective shredder.
7) Build Strong Passwords
In order to keep your online identity and information safe, it’s important that you create strong passwords for all of your accounts. Not only that, but you should create different passwords for each account and change them regularly. Trust me, I know it can be a total PIA to keep track of. But, it’s important if you want to protect your identity. Apps like Dashlane can help you get this done and store them without any headache.
8) Get Anitvirus Software
If you’re spending any time online, you need to protect your computer with antivirus software. (Duh.) This is no longer just a suggestion. It’s a necessity. I’m very careful about the websites that I visit and the emails I open. However, my antivirus and firewall block attacks on almost a daily basis. Personally, I think it’s totally lame that anybody would want to bust onto my computer or try to trick me into installing spyware. But, I’ve seen it happen too many times to go unprotected.
9) Lock Yo Shit Up
Stealing checks and credit cards is still a thing, y’all. It happens all the time. That’s why one of the easiest and best ways to protect your identity to is to lock your stuff up! It sucks to think about, but people have their identities stolen by family and friends all the time. My friend once had her checkbook stolen from our kitchen table. Our neighbor just walked in and took it. Ridiculous, yes. But it taught us all a lesson. Banking statements, passports, credit cards, birth certificates, social security cards – keep all that shit locked up where nobody is going to get to it. Simply by keeping it out of sight, you’re already protecting yourself.
10) Stop Credit Card Offers
Are you getting a bunch of pre-approved credit card offers? Those offers can be easy pickings for an identity thief. I love getting awesome rewards offers more than anybody I know. But, those offers could put you at risk of identity theft. Find out which companies are sending you the offers, and ask to be removed from their list. You might end up saving yourself a whole bunch of headache (and heartache). This is hard for me to say, but…the points just aren’t worth it.
11) Don’t Blast Everything on Facebook
Ah, social media! Never has there ever been a place where oversharing was more accepted and expected. Seriously, I love reading about the details of your bi-monthly breakups and reconciliations. But, while oversharing on social media may be entertaining, it can also be dangerous. You should never broadcast your personal information for the entire world to see. This includes answers to security questions like your mother’s maiden name, name of your childhood best friend, etc. Keep it safe and off of the ‘Face.
12) Respond Quickly
Whenever you spot suspicious or fraudulent activity, start fixing the situation immediately. You’re only liable for up to $50 per card if your credit cards are stolen. However, if your bank account information is stolen, the rules are waaaay different. If you report the stolen and fraudulent use within 2 business days, you’re only liable for up to $50 in unauthorized charges. However, between 2 days and 60 days after you receive your statement, you’re liable for up to $500 in unauthorized charges. Most importantly, you’re liable for all of the charges (and maybe more) if you don’t report the fraud until 61 days after you receive your statement. That’s just one more reason to keep a close eye on all of your accounts.
You’re working hard to take control of your finances and build wealth. Becoming a victim of identity theft could destroy everything you’ve worked so hard to build. With so much personal information available today on the internet, protecting your identity is more important than ever. Use these simple steps to monitor your accounts and protect your identity right away.