There are no magic tools to protect your identity, but there are steps you can take to reduce the risk of identity theft.
Identity theft is often hard to identify because it can take many forms. For example, somebody can figure out your email password, access your online bank account, gain access to your investment or pension plans, or use your personal details to apply for a loan.
To protect against identity theft and prevent serious damage to your credit report, you should take steps to safeguard your privacy.
Here are five easy things you can do to get started.
1. Use strong passwords and change them regularly
Using easily guessed passwords puts you at high risk for identity theft. At the top of the list for passwords not to use are your pet’s or children’s names, numbers like 123456 or something obvious like your birthday, your own surname, or even the word “password.” Hackers and scammers will try these combinations before anything else.
Random passwords are best. For example, a sentence like “thesunshines04” is still easy to remember but hard to guess since it doesn’t have any direct connection to your life.
Regardless of what passwords you choose, experts recommend changing them regularly and not using the same password everywhere.
2. Keep your personal information safe
One of the easiest ways to protect your identity is to make sure your personal information is never easily available. This means ripping up any mail that includes personal details – especially bank or credit card statements – before you throw it away.
Always keep personal documents stored away safely. Avoid leaving them out on desks or tables, particularly if you have people working in your home. Take similar care when out and about. If you’re offered a credit or debit card receipt, take it with you and dispose of it at home. In fact, any paperwork that has personal information should be disposed of at home, not in public.
3. Protect your identity on your computer
While changing your passwords is a good start, you also need to protect information accessed and stored through your computer.
As a first step, make sure you have virus and spyware protection installed and that it’s always up to date. If you have to download updates or new software, check that you’re using a trusted website. A firewall adds an extra layer of security. You can also add a virtual private network (VPN) to keep your IP location hidden.
Password protect any financial or personal information you keep on your computer. If you have personal information on a laptop that you take with you everywhere, there’s always the risk that it could be accqessed or stolen. For extra protection, avoid automatic log-in processes and don’t save passwords in your browser.
4. Keep things private on social media
If you’re active on social media, make sure you set your accounts to “private” so only friends can see what you post. On accounts that are more open, such as Twitter or Instagram, be mindful of what you post to protect your identity. Sharing things like your birthdate or your email address can make you more vulnerable to scams. And fraudsters could potentially guess your address if you post photos of your home and neighborhood.
Not-for-profit fraud prevention membership organisation Cifas also warns about being on the lookout for the social media equivalent of phishing, known as “twishing.” This is basically a social media post offering some amazing product or voucher that you can supposedly get for free if you click on a link. Once you click on the link, you’re redirected to a website that will install either spyware or ransomware on your computer.
5. Question requests for personal information
One of the best things you can do to protect your identity is to always question a person’s motives when they ask for your personal information. If you receive an email or phone call asking for those details, stop and question it. Organisations like your bank or a creditor already know these details. There’s no reason for them to ask for your address, your account number or login details.
If you’re asked for these, request a phone number to call back and then hang up. Then call your bank directly on a trusted number to confirm they are trying to contact you.
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