My sister has experienced this a couple of times – not to the point where her whole identity was stolen, but definitely some of her credit information. She literally spent hours on the phone to straighten everything out, from just one or two credit card charges. You might think it’s just a matter of simply canceling one credit card and having the company reissue another, but that’s the simple picture.
What I learned from my sister – and her hours (I mean HOURS) of phone calls – is that it is better to prevent the problem than to deal with it later. Unfortunately, the problem can sneak up on you rather quickly, even with strategies in place to prevent it.
Of course, there are services you may consider using that monitor your credit information and notify you when something weird shows up. However, in this environment you’ll likely need this and a few more tactics to reduce the potential someone takes your bank account for a roller coaster ride.
Identity theft continues to rise over the years as black hat hackers and abusers get technologically smarter. This is theft without the home break-in and destroyed furniture. Instead, your credit and future may be destroyed.
Here are 13 different strategies you might consider:
Before jumping on the first company that offers to monitor your credit report and identity, compare and contrast their services and price. Check with your bank too – some offer discounted services for their clients that are automatically deducted from your checking account.
Secure your passwords
Create secure passwords that are not easily guessed, and don’t include any identifying information. For instance, your password should not be the name of one of your children or your dog – unless it’s followed or preceeded by many numbers and symbols. Change your passwords consistently and record the ones linked to your financial information on paper. While several browser add-ons help prefill usernames and passwords on sites that require a login, never store your username and password to sites that have or store your financial information using apps or your browser.
Secure WIFI network
Use only a secured WIFI network, including at home. Secure it with another unique and hard to guess password so people trolling outside your home network cannot login and access your computer. If you are away from your home network, don’t sign in to any site that carries your financial information using WIFI as others can easily access that information. Consider using a virtual private network (VPN) while you’re away from home to add another layer of security to your information.
Check your credit reports consistently
You can get regular and free credit reports from the three credit agencies free. MyBankRate and CreditKarma are two places that offer this service. Check at least one of big three companies at least every four months, and sooner if you think something is a little “hinky.” Trans-Union, Experian and Equifax monitor your credit in order to report a numerical representation of your risk to people who may want to do business with you. Identity theft can trash these numbers, disabling your ability to get a loan, rent a car or raise your credit card limit.
Antivirus and antimalware
Using reliable antivirus and antimalware programs on your computer will add a layer of protection against hackers whose aim it is to enter your online domain.
Steer clear of the phish
You may think you wouldn’t fall prey to a phishing email, but they are getting more and more sophisticated with every passing year. I now receive emails that are well thought out, with the proper logos and grammatically correct English. DO NOT click links in emails from any company you do business with – they will send an email asking you to go to their website, login to your account and click a specific button; they will NOT send you a link to click.
Don’t overshare on social media
Going away for the weekend? Have a birthday coming up? Working with a bank for a loan on your new car? Don’t post this on social media. It doesn’t require too much information for someone to sabotage your efforts and you’ll be driving your old car for years to come.
Shred, shred, shred!
Do NOT leave a paper trail. Shred it all, including but not limited to: credit card receipts, junk mail with identifying information, credit card solicitation and old bills.
Monitor your bank and credit card statements
Keep an eye on how much money you’re spending, because the money leaving your accounts may not be money YOU have spent. Make it a habit to check the statement on the credit card you use the most every day and your other credit cards and statements at least every two weeks.
Verify your mailing address occasionally
Think you aren’t getting as much mail as you used to? Identity thieves may have turned in a change of address to the post office so you don’t get overdue notices.
Set up a fraud alert or freeze
A fraud alert with the three major credit bureaus will essentially force anyone who is trying to access your credit information (like a bank extending a line of credit) to ask more questions. This is definitely not fool-proof, but just another layer of protection. A credit freeze with these agencies is more effective, preventing any access with any new company doing business with you. However, while it is effective, it also puts up a few speed bumps for you if you’re trying to get any form of credit. It may take up to three days to lift the freeze and continue on your way.
Safeguard your social security number
There are several pieces of information an ID thief may use to access your information and your social security number is a big one. If someone wants to use it to identify you, ask if you can provide another form of ID.
Get your name and number off as many marketing hit lists as possible. When you get an automated call, wait until the end and ask to be taken off the list. Call the national Do-Not-Call Registry (1-888-382-1222) or go to their website (https://www.donotcall.gov/) to register your home and cell numbers. Consider cutting back on your junk mail and opt out of credit card solicitations. You can opt out for five years by calling 1-888-5-opt-out or visiting http://www.optoutprescreen.com