If you have not already been affected by identity theft or if you don’t already know someone who has been affected, that may all change as more technology makes it easier for hackers to access information anonymously.
This growing crime has given rise to many identity protection companies but there are still many things you can do yourself to limit your chances of falling victim to ID theft. Although there is no service that can promise 100% that you will never have your identity stolen and there is nothing you can do to be sure it will never happen to you, there are proactive steps you can take to make your identity more “hack proof”. Here are some ways to protect yourself without the use of companies like Lifelock and Identity Guard.
Protect Your Social Media
Too many people treat Facebook like it’s a private journal. But the truth is that identity thieves are using the social network to gain access into user’s private lives every day. You need to be vigilant in protecting your online content, your password, and even your friend’s list. Some hackers portray themselves as friends so they can see your more personal information. This is why you should verify every friend request and not just accept each one that comes in. Also, you should change your privacy settings to make your profile more private. Don’t put personal information in there like your birthdate and mother’s maiden name either. Any information that can be used to fill out an application or to get credit needs to be left off your social media profiles.
Guard Your Email Accounts
Even though email has been around for years and years now, it is still a major source of identity theft for people. First you should use different passwords for each of your accounts and make those passwords complex. Most people choose simple passwords so they can remember them, but an easy password to remember is also an easy password for a hacker to hack. Use numbers, symbols, and capital letters in your passwords to beef them up. Also, never click on a link in an email unless you are 100% sure who it is from. Never open an email that says they need your password or other personal information. Online banks and retailers will never ask for your password. These are phishing schemes that pretend to be reputable businesses so they can access your information.
Safeguard Your Mail
Don’t forget about the good old mailbox. There is a low tech form of identity theft that involves accessing bills and letters that come to your mailbox, and you may be surprised at how much personal information is mailed to your house. Always get your mail right away, or you can get a security mailbox that will let the mail carrier drop in your mail behind a lock box, to which only you have access with a key. When you go on vacation make sure you either have someone pick up your mail for you, or even better just cancel your mail for that week. Also, when you are done reading your mail you should shred it and not just throw it away. Most of us get those credit card offers and blank checks in the mail. You don’t want these sitting in the trash because some thieves sift through trash looking for information like this.
Discard Your Trash Properly
One man’s trash is another man’s identity risk. Again, you might be surprised to know how much information that can be found in your trash can be used to steal your identity. Make sure you get a good paper shredder. It is well worth the investment. Get one that has a cross-cut pattern and doesn’t just cut the paper vertically. The harder you make it to piece the puzzle back together the less likely any crook is to try it. Just by being cognizant of what is in your trash can help protect you from ID theft, so before you throw it away, ask yourself, “Can anything on this paper be used to steal my identity?”.
Keep Your Computer Secure and Up to Date
Many thieves are now hiding behind computers to steal identities. You should make sure your software is up to date and that you have a good anti-virus program that is up to date as well. And don’t put your guard down just because you have a Mac. There have been recent reports about Mac computers having viruses as well, and even though they are not that prevalent, the more popular these computers become, the more hackers will write viruses for them. Investing in a good malware and spyware killing tool is important as well. I run mine every day just to make sure that there is no tracking or malicious software on my machine.
The above guidelines should help protect you from identity theft, but staying on top of the growing threats is a constant battle. That’s why using an identity theft protection service can offer that extra level of protection. Services like Lifelock now offer bank account protection as well as credit monitoring. So you can have 24/7 protection while you go about and live your life.