Steps You Should Take in Preventing Identity Theft
Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors | Last reviewed June 20, 2016
There are many steps that you can in preventing identity theft. This article is designed to highlight some of the more important ones and make suggestions as to how you can make your identity more secure.
We've all heard about it, again and again, but how many of us have actually taken the steps to protect our most valuable information and identities? In numbers that increase every day, identify theft is becoming an epidemic that threatens everyone. The people committing these crimes look for personal information, such as bank account numbers, credit card information, names, addresses, and Social Security numbers. Armed with this sensitive information, these thieves can put it all to work, setting up fake bank accounts, getting credit cards in your name, ordering merchandise online, and even filing for bankruptcy in a false name.
If you have had your identity stolen, it may take you many months, or even years, to put your life back together and undo the damage that was done. Your credit may be in shambles, which could result in being denied loans, or even losing that dream apartment that you were applying for. However, you are not powerless to secure and protect your identity. What follows is a list of steps that you can take that will help you in preventing identity theft.
Keep your personal records safe -- If you have sensitive documents in your home or office, be sure that you keep them in a secure place, such as a locked desk drawer, or even a safe. In addition, you must be careful when disposing of sensitive information. Here are some tips that you can use to keep your records free from prying eyes:
- When throwing out sensitive documents, be sure to cut them up, or purchase a document shredder to do the job for you. Documents that should be destroyed before tossing in the trash include things like medical records, job/apartment applications, credit card statements, offers for new credit cards, bank receipts, and bank account statements.
- When mailing sensitive information, like unemployment applications or insurance documents, be sure to place these pieces of mail in the hands of a postal employee at a post office, or in a secure post office drop box, not in an unsecured collection area.
- Personnel records at work should be kept in a very secure area that has its own form of security, such as a locked file cabinet. In addition, when disposing of these records, be sure that they are properly shredded. There are companies that will dispose of confidential records for you.
Watch your personal belongings, wallets and purses -- If you take your wallet out of your pocket, be sure to keep it in your hand or in another safe area. When walking around with your wallet, keep it on your person in a safe area, such as a buttoned/zippered pocket, or a front pants pocket. Purses should be kept close at hand and in plain sight, as well. Do not leave purses in areas where it would be easy for someone to walk by and grab it.
Carry only what you must -- Try not to carry documents that have too much personal information in your wallet or purse unless you must. Leave extra credit cards and identification cards at home in a secure place.
Keep Your Social Security number safe -- Keep your Social Security card in a safe place at all times and be sure not to give out your Social Security number to anyone that is not authorized to view and use it.
Passwords -- Almost everything online now requires a password to protect it. Good advice for a password is to use something that is not easily guessed, so avoid things like your pet's name, or your phone number. Instead, opt for a password that does not have much to do with your life, and include numbers within your password. By introducing digits into a password, it can greatly increase its effectiveness. For example, the password "petty" would be much stronger as "petty11235."
Be wary of providing personal information over the phone -- There are many scammers that are attempting to use telephone calls to get personal information. These phone calls will often sound official, such as a department store's credit department calling in order to get payment. However, be wary of these calls and never give out your personal information over the phone unless you are absolutely sure that it is a legitimate call.
Protect your computer -- There are many steps that you can take in order to protect personal information that is stored on your computer. For instance, you can encrypt sensitive files, such as tax returns. Other steps that you may want to consider include things like investing in a good firewall program, downloading and maintaining a good antivirus program, and turning off automatic log-ins. Lastly, when you decide to get rid of a computer, you should either remove the hard drive and keep it for yourself, or buy a disk-wiping program that will thoroughly clean your hard drive of any information that may be stored on it. Often times, simply reformatting a hard drive will still leave traces of data that certain programs can sort through and retrieve complete files.
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