The recent news that the personal information (social security numbers, dates of birth, credit card numbers) of 143 million consumers may have been compromised by credit giant Equifax should serve as a reminder that we must all be vigilant when it comes to protecting our identify from those who want to steal it. According to AARP, identity theft occurs every two seconds. And by now, most of us have either personally been affected or have close friends or family members who have been victims of identify theft.
Here is a reminder of 10 suggestions for protecting ourselves from identity theft:
- Never provide personal information over the telephone unless you initiated the phone call and you know exactly who you are speaking with.
- Leave nothing of value visible in a parked car that might tempt identify thieves, including wallets, bags and purses, laptops, and mobile or other electronic devices.
- Don’t toss sensitive documents into the trash – shred them first (including all of those credit card and student loan consolidation offers you get) and use a micro-cut shredder.
- Secure your smartphone, iPad, Kindle, or other device with a password and avoid easy-to-guess passwords like birthdays, kid’s names, pet names or numbers in a sequence.
- Exclude important personal information from all your social media profiles. Details like your phone number, address, children’s age or school can all provide information identity thieves and hackers can use to gain access to your personal information and online accounts. On Facebook, that means getting rid of any “friends” you don’t know, minimizing the details in your “about me” section, and limiting information on your public profile.
- Beware of ‘phishing’ emails. Spam email is becoming more and more sophisticated. Never respond to any email requesting account information or passwords. Do not open any attachments if you don’t recognize the sender.
- Create complex passwords. Don’t use the same password for everything. If you need help creating a secure password try using an online password generator to create unique, random passwords. Try these two free sites:
- Get rid of the 3×5 index card full of passwords taped to your computer – use a password manager instead. Password managers are available as an app or online interface, and allow you to encrypt and store all of your passwords in one place, with a single password. Here are four of the most popular online password managers – most have a free online / app version available:
- Use two-factor authentication for financial accounts. Two-factor authentication (aka multi-factor authentication) is an extra layer of security that requires not only a username and password but also an additional piece of information that only you will know, like an instant security code sent to you via text.
- Check your financial statements regularly. Also, check your credit report annually to look for any unauthorized activity.