Learn how to avoid identity theft at home, online, and on Facebook with these 8 tips.
Identity Theft Protection Tip #4 Shred Confidential Documents
You’ve probably heard that you should shred every piece of paper that contains personal information before throwing it away, especially pre-approved credit card offers. But what you may not know is that even a tiny receipt that shows the last four digits of your credit card number can be used against you. A cross-cut shredder that makes confetti out of your documents is the best kind to use.
Identity Theft Protection Tip #5: Stop Giving Your Identity Away
Whenever an individual or a company asks you to share private information, ask yourself and them why they need it. Don’t give up your data without a darn good reason. When I got a flu shot last month, I was given some paperwork to fill out. In a rush, I mindlessly wrote down my information, got my shot, and left. As soon as I got home I wondered why they needed my Social Security number, but by that time it was too late. I can only hope that my paperwork doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. I should have politely challenged the nurse about why her company would need my Social Security number. It’s likely that the information wasn’t absolutely necessary and I could have kept that information confidential.
Identity Theft Protection Tip #6: Protect Your Computer and Mobile Devices
More and more of our confidential information is kept on computers and mobile devices, like cell phones and iPads. Just like with your wallet, eliminate every bit of private data from your hardware that you don’t absolutely need. Password-protect your devices so a thief can’t easily get your information if your computer or device is lost or stolen. Always use strong passwords that have more than eight characters and use a combination of numbers, letters, and symbols.
Download security software for your computer from companies like AVG, Symantec (Norton), and McAfee that include firewall, antivirus, and antispyware programs. Set the software up to update automatically and run a full system scan at least once a week.
Identity Theft Protection Tip #7: Minimize Social Sharing
Social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn are great for connecting with people, but make sure you don’t share information that could be used against you. Even selecting the tightest privacy controls doesn’t guarantee that your data won’t be exposed. Never include the following information in your social profiles or status updates:
The year you were born
The city where you were born
Your home address
The names of your children
The days you’ll be away on vacation
Even small pieces of information, like the date and place of your birth can be used to predict your Social Security number or to gain access to your bank accounts.
Identity Theft Protection Tip #8: Move Your Finances Online
You may think that my recommendation to do more online, especially your finances, may seem counterintuitive when it comes to preventing identity theft. After all, isn’t that where many criminals are lurking? The quick and dirty truth is that one of the best ways to stay safe is to stop receiving and sending documents through the mail that contain personal information.
Even if you have a mailbox that locks, an identity thief can forward your mail to their address without you knowing it. Receiving financial documents and paying bills online is much safer, but you should only log into your financial accounts from a secure Internet connection. Never pull up anything personal on a public computer or from open WiFi connection.
Financial documents that you receive in a digital format are always in your control. You can save them to your computer, an external hard drive, a remote storage service, or print them out, if necessary. Online banking also allows you to see your transactions as often as you like and to set up account alerts, so if someone tries to steal from you you’ll know about it right away.
It’s impossible to completely prevent identity theft; however, when you catch it in its earliest stages you can stop it more quickly and with less potential hassle and expense. Remember that staying safe isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it process—you have to stay vigilant and build layers of protection over time.
Celebrate Money Girl and Win Free Books!
From now until the end of 2010, I’m doing something special to thank you for being a part of the success of Money Girl! The audio podcast has been downloaded over seven million times, so I’m giving away seven personal finance books written by different authors, including me. There will be one winner each week. To be eligible to win, sign up at SmartMovesToGrowRich.com.
Laura’s Interview with John Sileo
6 Simple Tools to Protect Your Privacy
Identity Theft Information from the Department of Justice
John Sileo, Identity Theft Expert and Speaker