How to Not Be a Victim of Identity Theft

21
February

More and more business is done online these days. Though this is very convenient for the consumer, it is also convenient for the identity thief. Despite the warnings, eight million Americans will have their identities stolen this year. Thieves use these identities – including social security numbers, credit information, and bank accounts – to get money, purchase goods, or open lines of credit without any risk to his or her own credit. The symptoms of this crime are all too silent; thus, the victim often is unaware of this treachery until he or she is denied for a loan or bill collectors knock on the door. By then, the damage has been done, and it can take months, and many thousands of dollars, to fully recover.

The best medicine against identity theft is prevention. Take steps now to lower your risks of financial ruin. This advice applies to anyone, even if you buy nothing or everything online. Note that no amount of preparation is fool-proof; thus, be always vigilant with your credit so you can detect identity theft early:

1) If you do online banking, purchases, or other transactions, make sure your computer is secure. Many computers are infected with spyware, worms, and viruses that steal users’ log-ins, account numbers, and other credit information. Update your antivirus software regularly, and scan your computer at least one every two weeks for potential threats. Never download files from unknown sources, and beware of suspicious programs.

2) Identity thieves have become adept at mimicking official bank e-mails. These “phishing” e-mails will send you to official-looking, but fake, websites, and ask you for your account information for some apparently benevolent purpose. Legitimate companies will never ask you to provide your account information via e-mail, the phone, or random websites. If you unsure, log-in to your account through the official website, or call the company with the number listed on the site.

3) Avoid using debit cards online; use credit cards instead. While most debit cards enjoy the same protections as credit cards, it often takes a longer time to recover your money in the case of fraud. One great safety precaution is to obtain a credit card with a low credit limit solely for online purchases. If your credit card number is ever stolen, the thief won’t be able to go far with it.

4) Despite your precautions, sometimes your identity is out of your hands. Hackers can break into company databases and steal customer information. Even whole computers or laptops can be stolen, putting millions of consumers at risk. Always be on the lookout for announcements of a data breach from companies you share your info with; often they will send you letters in the mail notifying you of a potential theft.

5) Identity theft, though a huge risk online, is not avoidable in real life either. Always destroy any documents that contain your credit or financial information; use a shredder or tear them up yourself. Never give your social security number to a stranger without good reason. Snip expired or discarded credit cards. Don’t just throw out junk credit card mail, as thieves have been known to dumpster dive to steal the financial info that has been carelessly thrown out. Just like with e-mail, never give your financial info to a stranger over the phone. If your “bank” comes calling and you are suspicious, hang up and call the bank back to confirm its legitimacy. When using your credit cards, keep them in sight as much as possible. If you lose them, notify your bank immediately. Again, however, sometimes you can’t be totally safe regardless of the safeguards you put in place. A distrustful store employee could ‘borrow’ your credit card for a few seconds and copy down the information, or hack into the store’s computer to recover your identity data. Thus…

6) Obtain the services of a credit monitoring service. This company will constantly monitor your credit report for any changes, such as credit inquiries or new lines of credit. They will inform you if anything new pops up. Thus, if someone tries to steal your identity, you will know about it right away and you can smash the attempt before any serious damage is done.

This post was written by

jason – who has written posts on Budget Clowns.
Father of three and married to a lovely women. Always looking for ways to save money, and invest it properly for my children's future.

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