You can’t protect yourself completely from ID theft, but there are several tricks you can use to avoid being an easy target:
Strengthen your passwords: A short password, and particularly one that’s a name or word in a dictionary, can be easily cracked by computers. And simply adding “@” for the letter “a” isn’t going to fool the bad guys. Use the tips in “How do I create a really strong password?” to create a more secure log on.
Review your accounts regularly: Check the transactions on your credit cards and bank accounts weekly for any red flags. And consider setting alerts to notify you anytime a transaction is made over a certain monetary limit, like $50. This way you’ll know almost instantly of a charge you didn’t make, recommends Neal O’Farrell, executive director of The Identity Theft Council.
Use your free credits: You’re allowed one free report a year from each of the three credit agencies, which you can get via annualcreditreport.com. Space your requests out so you get one every four months. Scan the report to make sure all credit activity checks out, but also pay attention to who has enquired about your credit history; sometimes fraudsters will use an enquiry to test your credit and protection.
Ditch your mailbox. It’s easy for thieves to swipe information from unlocked mailboxes, so eliminate that paper trail by handling taxes, bill pay and other activities online instead.
Avoid carrying your Social Security Card…unless absolutely necessary.
Buy a shredder. Any paper documents, letters, bills, etc. that contain personal information should be shredded so they can’t be fished out of the trash. That even includes junk mail like pre-approved credit card offers.
Limit free Wi-Fi use. These public connections allow anyone nearby to see your browsing activity, so save the online purchases or bill pay for when you’re securely connected at home.
Avoid clicking on links: Virus-laced links in emails are any easy way for hackers to access your computer and take personal information. Rather than clicking on a link, attempt to get to the same web page through a Google search.
Make sure you have antivirus and anti-phishing software, along with a firewall, installed on all your devices to fight off hacking attempts. Keep on top of all operating system updates.
Lock down your devices. Password-protect your phone, tablets and laptops to add another hurdle for thieves to overcome. And sign up for remote wiping on your phone, so that you can eliminate any personal information if it is stolen.
Freeze your credit. By calling each of the three credit agencies and paying a fee up around $10 per bureau, you can place a freeze on your account, which prevents any new lines of credit from being opened. The catch: You will need to thaw your credit anytime you want to apply for a new line of credit yourself, and you’ll have to remember to refreeze it once the process is complete.