Millions of Americans are the victims of identity theft every year. In 2017, the IRS alone blocked more than $4 billion in identity theft-related fraudulent returns. While you can’t personally prevent all attempts to steal your identity, there are basic precautions that should be part of your everyday routine.
Everyday ways to protect yourself from identity theft
- Take basic measures to protect your personal documents. Don’t routinely carry your Social Security card in your wallet. Ensure your tax records and identity documents are stored securely in your home.
- Use a locking mailbox, rent a P.O. box, or have your mail held when away from home. Switch to paperless communication whenever possible for your financial accounts. Act promptly if you receive tax documents from companies you don’t recognize and respond to all IRS notices.
- Use strong, unique passwords for each financial account and do not send personal information in unencrypted emails.
- Use firewalls and anti-virus protections on your computers and set them to automatically update.
- Be cautious about the information you post online. Use the strongest privacy settings available on your social media accounts and avoid downloading extraneous applications.
- Do not click on suspicious links or download from emails you are not expecting. Scammers can easily make an email look like it came from someone you know.
- Learn to recognize phishing emails that look like they came from your bank or credit card company. Avoid using their links and navigate directly to their legitimate web address before entering your sign in credentials. These institutions will never ask you to send sensitive information back to them over email. Neither will the IRS.
- Monitor your credit reports annually. This can be done for free once a year for each bureau at annualcreditreport.com. It’s also a good idea to review your ChexSystems and Social Security Administration records periodically for accuracy.
- Read your health insurance statements. Healthcare scams are on the rise. Look for services your never received or doctors you never saw. If you purchase your own insurance, thoroughly research the company and coverages before signing up.
- Shop online only at trusted sources. Look for “https” secured addresses. Use a credit card that has a $0 fraud liability guarantee rather than a debit card. If you are going to purchase from a smaller unfamiliar site, use a prepaid card. Some credit card companies will also issue you one time use credit card numbers for this purpose.
- Keep records of your purchases and check your bank account and credit card statements carefully. A popular scam is to charge small amounts to a credit or debit card in hopes that the account owner doesn’t notice. Dispute unknown charges with your bank or credit card company immediately and request a new card.
- Shred any documents containing personal or financial information. Never toss papers with account numbers or Social Security numbers in the regular trash.
Having your identity compromised can mean so much more than needing a new credit card issued. Untangling the mess can take years. It can cause problems applying for credit or loans, applying for jobs, and when filing your taxes. Taking some basic precautions now can lower the risk of your identity being compromised. If you are a victim of identity theft, swift action can lessen the impact; start by visiting the FTC IdentityTheft.gov page.