When you hear the dictum, “You should protect yourself from identity theft,” do you equate this with pushing a wheelbarrow loaded with rocks up a hill? It would actually be more accurate to picture slicing into a fresh apple pie, because identity theft protection is as easy as pie. Check out the following things you should do—without breaking any sweat:
- Examine your credit card statements once a month to catch any unauthorized charges. Even a tiny charge should not be blown off, since often, thieves will start out small to “test the waters.” Once they get away with this, they’ll be surfing the big waves if you don’t pounce on them quickly.
- Buy a shredder. Don’t rely on tearing up documents with your hands, especially unopened envelopes. A shredder will blitz them to fragments that a “dumpster diver” won’t be able to piece together. Until you get a shredder, use scissors and snip up anything that has sensitive information on it.
- Put the names and phone numbers of your credit/debit cards on hardcopy so you’ll have a quick way to contact them should any become stolen.
- There are three major credit report bureaus: TransUnion, Experian and Equifax. At least once a year review your credit reports with them, as they can reveal if, for instance, someone opened a credit card account in your name.
- If you ever lose your cell phone, anyone can obtain sensitive data you have stored in it—unless it’s password protected. And please, use a strong, long password, since the thief might be someone who knows you and is capable of sitting there trying all sorts of permutations with your beloved dog’s name, a la Duke1.
- Are a lot of your sensitive paperwork and documents in unlocked file cabinets that anyone can get into? The thief could be a visiting family member (yes, family members can be crooked), the cleaning lady, repairman, window guy, dishwasher installer, a visiting neighbor, you name it. A fireproof safe will protect these documents.
- All of your computers should have antivirus, antimalware and antispyware software, that’s regularly updated.
- Install a virtual private network to encrypt all free WiFi communications. Hostspot Shield is a good example.
- Put a freeze on your credit, at least if you don’t plan on applying for any credit lines or loans in the near future; you’ll be blocked until you unfreeze it, but so will thieves.
More on Credit Freezes
- Freezing is free for ID theft victims; there’s a small charge for non-victims ($15 per credit bureau, which may be for all time, depending on your state’s policies).
- “Thawing” the freeze (which takes five minutes) is free to victims and up to $5 for non-victims.
- It will not affect your credit score.
- It works because they block lenders from seeing your credit scores. So if someone gets your identity, they can’t open credit in your name because lenders need to see those scores.
- You won’t be able to see your credit reports unless you have a PIN to access them.
Identity theft doesn’t have to be a scary nightmare. As long as consumers follow these basic tips and guidelines they can prevent many forms if identity theft.
Robert Siciliano is an Identity Theft Expert to Hotspot Shield. He is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Identity Was Stolen See him discussing internet and wireless security on Good Morning America. Disclosures.