X

10 Generally Helpful Tips To Protect You From Identity Theft

There have been countless breaches that have occurred over the years. Some of them have been after government bodies, but in most cases, hackers have been looking to gather data on folks like us.

While the use of that information gathered can vary widely, stolen information from places like banks or credit bureau agencies leave hackers more room to commit identity theft. What’s worse is in those instances those hackers can continue to exploit that information and leverage it indefinitely.

So what can we do? Well even if our information is out there in cyberspace, we can take better care of our information moving forward. Here are some things to consider doing from this point onward.

Freeze Credit Reports

In 2017, Equifax had a breach that impacted 143 million American’s personal information including social security number, drivers license, and address. While you may be one of those victims, there are still things you can do about that.

For one, make a point of checking your credit report. Look and see if you find anything unusual about it, but also freeze your credit report.

You want to be doing that not only with one credit bureau but with all major credit bureaus. In America’s case that’s TransUnion and Experian along with Equifax. Now obviously there are more credit reports than that out in the world, but you’ll be generally safe if you focus on the major ones.

So what does freezing do? Well freezing your credit report doesn’t mean that everything is locked in so to speak. It means that it can only be accessed if you have the corresponding PIN and have your identity verified.

Think of it like a two-factor authentication for your credit report. This is good not only to protect from identity theft but two-factor authentication is generally stronger than having a single PIN number as protection.

Shred Personal Documents

We receive a lot of paper like flyers, statements and more. While it’s ideal to go paperless, there are cases where we can’t do that. In those situations, you don’t want to be throwing out things with personal information on it. Instead you want to shred it before putting them into the recycling bin.

What sort of things need to be shredded? Here is a list:

  • Bank statements
  • Credit reports
  • Receipts
  • Credit card offers
  • Medical statements
  • Expired credit cards or debit cards you no longer need.
  • Investing information or government documents (401k, T4 slips, etc.)
  • Any other records that have personal info

It’s important to look at what you are receiving and what you are throwing out as even the most unwanted mail can contain personal info.

Be Mindful Where Personal Info Is

There are all kinds of phishing scams out there. From the phoney “royalty” in foreign countries to some relative you’ve never heard of passing away and you inheriting lots of money. While there are many ways to spot a phishing scheme, it’s still key to exercise caution.

First of all, you don’t want to be handing information over in those instances, but it’s also worth thinking about where information sharing is warranted and what kind. For example, no company or person will ever ask you for your government issued security number. Not even the government themselves will explicitly ask for it.

This also applies to less sensitive information as well such as your birthday, or home address. Again, even the slightest bit of information can go a long way. After all one screening process for government to verify identity is to ask for your permanent address and birthday too.

All in all, you want to have general caution towards what you are placing on sites. On top of that if you do input particular information, ensure the site is secure (denoted by a padlock or https:// in the website address URL).

Look At Statements & Reports Carefully

Banking today has become more convenient where you can check your statements and reports online. This is a better method than always printing or requesting the documents be sent to you in the mail of course.

But just because online is objectively better, doesn’t mean you can relax. It’s still worth looking at your account regularly for any unusual charges.

This also applies to credit reports as well. Even if you freeze them now doesn’t mean that people can still swipe your credit card number and use it. Monitor your reports, especially when you notice drastic changes like a significant drop in your credit score, or a large and unusual charge.

Make a point of checking through your statements at least once a year. For the more paranoid, I’d recommend once a month getting a report and checking your balance and numbers online once every week or two.

Have Stronger Passwords

I can’t say this enough, but people still have laughably easy passwords and have generally poor password precautions. Whether it’s an easy password to the same password being used over and over again, those sorts of systems are prone to fail and can spell danger.

Instead of that, you want to be making tougher passwords using a combination of symbols, numbers, and letters. Not only that, but you want to make a point of memorizing the passwords and never write them out on paper.

But what if you have several accounts and you can’t memorize all of these passwords? Well fortunately there are all kinds of password provider tools online. Examples are LastPass, 1Password or (Dashlane which store hundreds of passwords and is locked behind a master password that you create (and enable two factor authentication to better secure your password vault).

This narrows down memorizing several to memorizing one. Cool, right?

The only thing with that master password is make a point of changing it every few months so you’re not prone to vulnerabilities. This also applies to passwords for the sites you visit.

Monitor Mail

While it may be a relic of the past where we get tonnes of junk mail, there are still some important pieces of mail that come through there. We still need it to pick up packages we order, but we can also use it to request statements. Not to mention companies and government use your mailing address to send crucial information through there sometimes.

What I’m saying is that we shouldn’t be lax about our physical mail even though most of us have probably gone paperless on statements and bills. With this in mind here are some precautions to take:

  • Ensure that your mail is stored in a locked compartment. For some you’re already good as there may be a central location where you get your mail and you need a key to get in anyway. Others though you may need to invest in a lock.
  • If you are away for an extended period of time, you can always opt to have mail to be held back. That or you can ask a friend or family member to pick up your mail.
  • If you are expecting important statements sent by mail, keep an eye on it. Let companies know if you haven’t gotten the statement in the time they said you’d get it.

Allow Security Features On Devices

Not only on our devices but also the apps we use. Sure inputting different passwords can be time consuming but it’s a small price to pay compared to your identity being stolen and having to rebuild your life anew.

Some particular steps to take to protect devices is to have plenty of security features on our phones. Since they are miniature computers in our pockets, we store plenty of data that can be accessed with ease if there is no protection.

Safeguard Your Network

Public Wi-Fi networks are convenient, but dangerous. Since anyone can access them, it’s easy for hackers to get into those networks and start swiping data from people. In these instances, people are encouraged to use a VPN or Virtual Private Network.

Don’t have one? Not a problem. One particular site called Tor Project is a free to use site that provides a secured private network that can’t be accessed by others. This can be helpful in public settings where you don’t want to use your phone as a hotspot. I also highly recommend ExpressVPN or NordVPN.

Some other measures to consider is even when you’re on your home’s Wi-Fi, have virus detection software as well as have a firewall.

Use Two-Factor Authentication

One other method I’ve mentioned through this article is two-factor authentication. This is regarded as a more secure method of protecting ourselves and it is. It’s objectively better as we’ve learned how vulnerable a password can be. Especially when the password is easy to crack.

What two-factor authentication is is using two methods to log into anything. This creates another step in the process and that method could shut down any attempt into cracking into an account.

How?

Well an example of two-factor authentication is setting up a password and then having to input a specific PIN. The thing with that PIN though is that it’s sent to your phone  or email and it’s a time sensitive one meaning it’ll expire in a matter of minutes. Sometimes you use an authentication app to give you the code. This sort of method is used more and more by government websites which has worked out well.

Other examples are security questions that are personal like mother’s maiden name or a household pet name which I am not a fan of because this info is on many people’s facebook profiles.  Some not as obvious ones can even be organic like having your eye scanned, a fingerprint checked or in some advanced cases having voice recognition.

Regardless, having these in place in many websites will help you in blocking attacks.

Pay Attention To Lurkers

The final thing is to pay attention to people out in the real world. As I hinted at a little before, there are all kinds of ways people can get numbers and it’s not just through hacking. In cases with credit cards, people only need to know a handful of digits on your card.

The key here is to exercise some caution during certain activities. Activities like:

  • Ordering something online in public.
  • Surfing the web in public.
  • Entering a PIN while at an ATM or confirming a purchase.

All you need to do is be aware of who’s around you when you’re conducting business in public. Exercise caution whenever people you don’t know are particularly close to you when doing these activities.

Protect Yourself From Identity Theft

We are only as secure as we allow ourselves to be. With the potential of our lives being stolen and having to rebuild, I believe these tips will keep us more secure and less at risk of getting wrapped up in schemes and potentially getting our identity stolen.

FOLLOW ME ON SOCIAL MEDIA