I am guessing just reading those words caused you to feel a bit of dread or unease. Imagine how much worse you would feel if you were actually a victim!
Unfortunately, over the last couple years, a few of my clients and friends have become victims. In a couple cases, they found out from the IRS. Trust me, you do not want to receive that letter.
You know who you are, and I know who you are, but trying to prove your identity to creditors or the IRS is a different matter entirely.
So, what can you do?
How to Protect Yourself From Identity Theft
While there is no foolproof solution, there are a number of things you can do to help protect yourself:
- Be a stingy emailer. Email is an incredibly convenient way to communicate. However, at times it can be a bit too convenient. You should avoid sending certain information via email unless you are using a secure system. Specifically, if a document has your Social Security number or financial account numbers, you want to be careful about how you handle it. (For related reading, see: Tips for Keeping Your Financial Data Safe Online.)
- Shred, shred, shred. Shredders are great. Look around your office (or wherever you keep your documents). Odds are you can probably get rid of 90% of the paper you have in storage. Most can be thrown away without worry; however, if there are documents with account numbers, Social Security numbers, etc., you will want to make sure you dispose of them properly. Shredding is a fantastic option (make sure you get a cross-cut shredder). If you have a large amount of documents that need to be disposed of, there are services where you can pay to have the documents shredded or, alternatively, many businesses host “shred days” where you can bring your old documents and have them shredded for free. (For related reading, see: 10 Ways to Protect Your Social Security Number.)
- Check your statements. Even if you simply scan them, regularly looking over bank and credit card statements can help you identify potential issues before they fester for too long.
- Opt for credit over debit. There is a measure of fraud protection with both credit cards and debit cards; however, if someone gets access to your debit card, they can potentially take funds from your account. While you might get the money back, it may take some time. Believe me when I say it is less stressful to resolve credit card issues (their money) than debit card issues (your money).
- Be wary of Wi-Fi. You probably know this already, but public Wi-Fi is a hacker’s dream. If you must use an unsecured public Wi-Fi system, be careful that you do not access any of your accounts.
- Beware of scams. It goes without saying that there are countless people who would like to separate you from your money. Email scams, telephone scams, door-to-door “repair” scams…the list goes on. I know people who have received calls from “Microsoft” because their computers were infected. You can be assured Microsoft does not care, and they are not calling you at home to clean your computer. It is simply a scammer who wants access to your computer or cash (or in the case of the people I know who paid, gift cards). Be vigilant. (For related reading, see: Credit Scams to Watch out for.)
There are so many other things to be aware of, but hopefully you get the point—be careful!
Check Your Credit Report
Let me leave you with an action step:
Check your credit report. If your ID is stolen, it is typically so the thief can get credit or open accounts in your name. If you are religious about checking your credit, you can potentially identify credit cards or loans that may have been taken out in your name without your knowledge. You may also be able to see who has run your credit recently. All you have to do is go to www.annualcreditreport.com. Each of the three major credit reporting agencies will provide you with a free copy of your credit report once per year. In other words, you can get one every four months by rotating companies. Again, this is a free and easy way to stay on top of things.
Please pass this information along to your friends and loved ones—the scammers are after all of us!
Also, if you have any stories to share, please forward them to me. Your story may serve as a good warning for others. (For related reading, see: Identity Theft: Who to Call for Help.)
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