There’s only one thing worse than having your wallet stolen, and that’s having your identity stolen along with it. Identity theft may seem like one of those things that will “never happen to me,” but the truth is that over 12 million Americans fell victim to identity theft and fraud in 2012. While it’s impossible to stop anyone from rooting through your trash, it is possible to protect yourself and your financial information and help decrease your chances of identity theft.
Shred documents with personally identifying information
One of the easiest ways for a thief to steal your identity and use your financial information for personal gain? Finding your discarded or thrown-away sensitive documents. With the right amount of information, a thief could easily assume your identity or take funds from your bank account. As a general rule of thumb, you should shred any of the following documents if you plan to throw them away:
- Tax documents
- Credit card statements and offers
- Bank statements
- Anything else with your name, address or other identifying information, such as an old driver’s licenses, old credit cards, etc.
Only provide your social security number to trusted sources
Your social security number is one of your most personal pieces of information, and a thief with access to that number could do a lot of damage – including opening up a line of credit under your name. In general, you should only be providing this number to verified, trusted sources, like the federal government, your employer, benefits programs, financial institutions and other reputable sources. You should never have to provide your social security number for things like making a purchase with your credit card or applying for a frequent shopper card at a store. Above all else, never provide your social security number to someone over the phone if you did not initiate the phone call – you never know who could be on the other end of the line.
Make secure online purchases
Be aware of how you do your online shopping. Using a shared or public computer to make a purchase could provide identity thieves with access to your financial information long after you’ve left. Online shopping over public Wi-Fi is just as dangerous, as hackers in a public setting can more easily tap into your computer and steal your financial information. Finally, make sure that you shop on websites that protect your financial information. Before purchasing anything, check to see if the website has an SSL lock (an SSL lock is a small padlock icon you can find on all secure sites).
Check your credit report for errors or suspicious activity
Regularly checking your credit report is like getting an annual physical with your doctor – you may not know what’s wrong until you take a look. When you check your credit report, verify that all your financial information is correct. Check your name, address, any outstanding debts, and payment history. Make sure all the items listed are correct and up to date. If you notice any suspicious spending activity or any accounts that you don’t remember opening, contact the credit reporting companies and the company in question right away.