Few things can throw your life into total upheaval like being the victim of identity theft. Even if a large sum of money hasn’t been stolen from you, it’s still a thoroughly unsettling experience. You need to cancel your accounts, figure out how your identity was compromised in the first place and take all of the appropriate steps to make sure your information is secured.
More than that, though, when you’re a victim of identity theft, it’s sort of like losing your innocence. It truly interferes with your psychological peace, as all the people and institutions that you believed were trustworthy are now called into question. You become jaded and skeptical and, quite frankly, a little scared that you’re not as safe as you’d like to be.
As with just about everything, the best way to cope with identity theft is to prevent it from happening in the first place. And, while there are no foolproof strategies to preventing it from happening, there are lots of things you can do to make your identity more secure. Here are five ways to prevent your identity from being stolen.
1. Keep your home secure.
You already lock your doors and your windows, but it’s also a wise idea to lock up any of your sensitive documents, like birth certificates, passports and social security or national identity cards. If you have sensitive documents you no longer need, such as bank statements, don’t just toss them in the recycle pile; instead, burn them or shred them.
Paying attention to your mail also goes a long way in preventing identity theft. Don’t let your delivered mail sit too long in an unlocked box, and when you’re mailing sensitive information, take it to the post office or a post box rather than putting it in your own unsecured mailbox.
Beyond these home-related tips, remember that a significant amount of identity theft is done by family members and close friends. Therefore, you want to be careful about what you share with whom. Keep your sharing of sensitive information on a need to know basis only, and only with people you know you can trust.
2. Tighten up your online security.
Beyond having strong passwords for all of your accounts, how else can you keep your online and mobile presence secure? For starters, take advantage of two-step identity verification when it’s offered. Also, lock your mobile devices with a PIN or thumbprint ID, password protect both your computer and your home Wi-Fi network, use good anti-virus software on your PC and be extremely wary of phishing attempts! Look skeptically at every email that asks for personal information, be sure to check from address and don’t click on links unless you’re completely confident that an email is legitimate.
Finally, be smart about what you share on your social media accounts. Think twice before posting about your upcoming vacation, for example, as it just announces to the world that no one will be in your home. Or even better, get a house sitter (or at the very least a neighbor to look in on things on a daily basis) if you’ll be out of town for more than a day or two.
3. Carry only what you need.
You obviously need your wallet, and it probably contains an ID or driver’s license, one or two credit cards, and maybe some cash. Beyond that, you probably don’t need to carry much else on a regular basis. Checkbook? Only when you’re going to be writing a check. Social security or national identity card? It’s not necessary to have on you, and it’s actually a vital piece of information in any identity theft attempt. Passport? Absolutely not, unless you are traveling internationally. Furthermore, keep your PIN numbers in your head rather than on a piece of paper to keep any debit cards secure. Finally, it’s a good idea to have a photocopy or a list of everything in your wallet. That way, if your wallet is stolen, you can act quickly to minimize any damage.
4. Be vigilant at work.
You may like the people you work with, but can you trust them? For example, your human resources department has all of your personal data, but how secure is it? It may not be a bad idea to find out. At the very least, pay attention to where you leave your belongings. Don’t leave your wallet, purse or bag with sensitive documents unattended. Lock them in a filing cabinet, take them with you (even if you’re just going to the restroom for two minutes), or if you’re lucky enough to have your own office, lock the door.
5. Monitor your accounts.
Despite your best efforts, your identity may still get stolen. However, you can stop the problem in its tracks if you make a habit of regularly checking your various accounts. These include bank accounts, credit cards, investments, credit reports and any other financial statements. You can also be proactive about the issue by calling your various financial institutions and finding out what types of credit protection are extended to customers. Many credit companies will automatically put a freeze on a credit card if there’s suspicious activity on it or charges that don’t jibe with your usual spending habits. Plus, some creditors are extending this ability to customers via mobile apps; if you suspect your identity or your credit card information has been compromised, you can freeze your account with a single tap.