Identity thieves are resourceful. They use a variety of ways to steal information. Ask anyone that has been a victim and they will tell you its takes time, money and LOTS of patience to resolve. Not only can thieves wreak havoc with your finances, credit history and reputation, they can get medical treatment on your health insurance, file a tax return in your name and get your refund. In extreme cases they may even give your name to police during an arrest.
How to Tell if Your Information Has Been Stolen
- you get a notice that your information was compromised by a data breach at a company where you do business or have an account
- the IRS notifies you that more than one tax return was filed in your name or you have income from an employer you don’t work for
- your health plan rejects your legitimate medical claim because records show you’ve reached your benefits limit
- medical providers bill you for services you didn’t use
- debt collectors call you about debts that aren’t yours
- you see unexplained withdrawals from your bank account or find unfamiliar accounts or charges on your credit report
Here Are Five Tips for Protecting Your Personal Information:
Keep Your Important Papers Secure
- Lock them up in a safe place at home. Lock or secure your wallet or purse in a safe place at work and keep your information secure from roommates or workers coming into your home.
- Limit what you carry when you go out. Take only the identification and credit or debit cards you need. Always leave your Social Security and Medicare cards at home or in a secure place. Consider whether a digital wallet is an good option for you.
- Pick up new checks directly from your bank and only order checks online if you have a locking mailbox.
- Take outgoing mail to post office collection locations or to the post office. If you’ll be away from home for an extended period, place a hold on your mail by going to your post office or visiting www.usps.com/holdmail.
- Shred sensitive documents like receipts, credit offers, credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, checks, bank statements, expired credit cards similar documents before tossing them in the trash. Consider opting out of receiving mailed statements and using a scanner to archive receipts and other statements digitally before shredding hard copies.
- Opt out of prescreened offers of credit and insurance by mail. You can opt out permanently by going to www.optoutprescreen.com. The three nationwide credit reporting companies operate the website.
- Destroy labels on prescription bottles before throwing them away. Never share your health plan information to anyone who offers free health services or products.
- Before sharing information at your workplace, a business, a child’s school or doctor’s office, ask who will have access to our information, how it will be handled and how it will be disposed of.
Secure your Social Security Number
- Share your or your child’s Social Security number only when necessary. Ask if you can use a different kind of identification. Ask why they need it, how it will be used, how they’ll protect it and what happens if you don’t share the number. The decision to share is yours but you should anticipate that come businesses will not provide you with a service or benefit if you don’t provide the number. Listen to your intuition.
- You will need to share your number with your employer and financial institutions for wage and tax reporting purposes or to a business so they can check your credit if you apply for a loan, rent an apartment or sign up for utility service.
Be Alert to Online Impersonators
- If a company claims to have an account in your name, don’t automatically click on links in the email. Instead, type the company name into your web browser, go to their official site and contact them through customer service. Or call the customer service number listed on your account statement and ask whether the company really sent a request. Do the same for messages left on your answering machine.
Protect Your Computer and Mobile Devices
- Use anti-virus, anti-spyware and a firewall. Set preferences to update these protections automatically and OFTEN. And be sure to install security patches for your operating system and other software programs. Lucky you if your employer takes care of all of this for you at work!
- Never open files, click on links or download programs sent by strangers. With so much hacking nowadays, emails that look like they come from trusted sources may not be trustworthy. Ask yourself if you really need to see the latest funny cartoon or photograph – especially if you have to link to it directly from your email. Same goes for Facebook. Use caution when liking, sharing or following links until you FREQUENTLY update your privacy settings. Sometimes social media programs return to default settings when they make upgrades and your opt outs may go away.
- Safely dispose of personal information before you get rid of an old computer or cell phone. Use a wipe utility program to overwrite the entire hard drive.
- Check your owner’s manual, the service provider’s website or the device manufacturers website for information on how to delete information permanently and how to save or transfer information to a new device.
- Remove the SIM from your mobile device. Remove the phone book, lists of calls made and received, voicemails, messages sent and received, organizer folders, web search history and photos.
Protect Your Data and Personal Information
- Encrypt your data. A “lock” icon on the status bar of your internet browser means your information will be safe then transmitted. Look for the lock before you send personal information online.
- Be smart about Wi-Fi use. If you use a secure wireless network, all the information you send on that network is protected. If you use an encrypted website, it protects only the information you send to and from THAT site. Before sending personal information over a laptop or smartphone via wireless network in a coffee shop, library, airport, hotel or other public place check that your information will be protected.
- Use strong passwords and keep them private. Don’t use the same password for many accounts. Consider using a password manager such as KeePass.
- Be frugal about what you share about your personal life on social media. Oversharing is just what identity thieves love. They can learn a lot about you from your posts. Never post your full name, Social Security number, phone number, birth year or account numbers. With GPS enabled cell phones and cameras you might consider not posting photos of your children or home online until you disable that feature.
- Keep financial information on a laptop only when necessary. Don’t use an auto login feature that saves your user name and login and to make it difficult for a thief to gain access, always log off when finished.
- And last but not least, read those long, complex privacy policies especially how your information is shared.
For more information about how you can protect yourself and your loved ones, visit the Federal Trade Commission’s website.