Because identity theft is increasingly common, security experts recommend consumers be proactive about protecting themselves. That means taking precautions, both offline and online, to keep sensitive information safe. There are a few identity theft tips everyone can use to minimize their risks. To start, it’s important to understand the scope of the information that poses a security risk if it gets into the wrong hands.
Keep Your Personal Information Private
That means avoid providing personal data to anyone who doesn’t have a valid reason for having the information. Be very careful about disclosing Social Security numbers. Always try to use some other identifier when possible. Identity thieves are overjoyed to get Social Security numbers, as they can be used to access credit and other information. Also, try to avoid disclosing drivers license numbers, as this is another unique identifier that can be used as part of identity theft efforts.
Protect Computer Data
Identity thieves are cashing in by using sophisticated phishing schemes to lure computer users into disclosing data. Never respond directly to emails purporting to be from banks or credit card companies. Those companies do not, as a rule, request information from their customers. Before providing any information, contact the bank or credit card company using the contact information they provide for assistance or advice.
Online sites require passwords. Because remembering many passwords is difficult, consumers often get lazy and use the same password for all sites. Break the habit and start using more complex passwords for all sites, especially any sites where financial information is shared. There are several quality managers available to keep track of and protect passwords. Consider using one to store all passwords being used.
What Can Consumers Do If They Are Identity Theft Victims?
The Federal Trade Commission recommends anyone experiencing identity theft take immediate steps to minimize the damage and start the process of recovering. First, place a fraud alert with major credit reporting agencies. Freeze all new credit inquiries to reduce the potential for the thieves using your identity to acquire credit in your name. Update your files, including a current credit report, and track any new activity that appears suspicious. That includes bank statements and mailings that are unusual. Most importantly, keep track of every person you talk to, what you talked about, and note the date the contact occurred. While identity theft is difficult to deal with, taking steps early will help.