Identify Theft 101: How to Keep Yourself Protected
March 25, 2019 | By Louis Tully
Identity theft is a silent killer to your credit and can even lead to a great deal of financial stress. It occurs when someone steals your information for their own financial gain. By the time you’ve fallen victim to this sneaky crime, it’s already too late. But there are ways you can protect yourself from a potential attack. This type of crime is deceptive in nature and usually occurs when you get entangled in a shady situation. For example, if someone calls you up at dinner time offering you a chance to cut your debt in half in exchange for your financial information, it’s usually always a trap. Rule of thumb: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
How can I protect myself from identity theft?
In order to protect yourself, you need to be informed of the ways in which thieves are stealing people’s financial information. While it’s not always obvious, there are ways you can easily detect if someone is legit, or just trying to steal from you. Here are a few tidbits than can help you prevent an attack on your identity:
Safeguard your information
Let’s face it, there are several occasions when it becomes necessary to give out very sensitive information like your street address, credit card number, and even your Social Security. And for the most part, it’s pretty safe to do so. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t exercise caution. As a result of identity theft, the Pew Research Center has estimated that up to 18% of Americans have become victims to bank fraud via ATM, debit, or credit card compromises. Remember, if somebody has your information, they can use that information against you. Scary, right? That’s why it’s so important to safeguard your identity. With that said, you should do the following to help keep your money safe:
- Think twice before sharing your PIN or card numbers; even with your friends.
- Never use your Social Security number or your DOB for passwords, or PINs.
- Never write any sensitive information down.
- Shred any mail you receive with your information printed on it.
- Keep a close eye on your online account statements for charges you don’t recognize.
- If your debit or credit card is ever lost or stolen, report it to your bank immediately.
Different types of identity theft
As if identity theft wasn’t confusing enough, you should know that this crime takes on many different forms. The most popular of which are internet and telephone scams:
Online fraud has been on the rise for years and the number of those falling for these virtual scams keep going up. But that doesn’t mean you have to get caught up in the same trend. Follow these common-sense guidelines:
- Saved payment methods: Online shoppers know the convenience of keeping their card on file for easy checkout. But if the site gets hacked, your credit card number could wind up in the wrong hands.
- Weak passwords: Some people’s passwords are ridiculously easy to crack. If you like to use something easy to remember like your birthdate or your own name, it becomes just as easy for someone else to guess your password. Use stronger passwords by using letter, number, and special character combinations.
- Pharming: This is when your web browser becomes compromised by a virus, making some websites appear legit, but are actually fake. Make sure you have the proper anti-virus software installed to avoid getting scammed.
- Phishing: Phishing comes from opened emails that look legit, but aren’t. If you receive an email from somebody you don’t recognize, don’t click it. Delete it.
- Sketchy websites: Never visit a website that is unsecure. If the web address prefix doesn’t have an “s” in it, it’s unsecure. Ex. ‘http:’ is bad, ‘https:’ is good.
- Recycled computers: If you have an old computer that you’re trying to get rid of, make sure the hard drive is completely wiped clean first. Failing to do so could result in your personal information getting stolen. Most places like Best Buy or Staples will take old computers in for recycling and wipe the hard drives before disposing of them.
Unfortunately, telemarketing is still a thing and while some telemarketers may be trying to sell you an honest product, many of them are just trying to rip you off. Here are a few ways to deal with shady telemarketers:
- Who called who? If they’re the ones calling you, it’s probably a scam. The next time you see a strange number come up on your phone, don’t answer it. Just let it go to voicemail. If it turns out to be legitimate, you can always call back.
- Does it sound too good to be true? If you ever end up on the line with somebody offering you “the deal of a life time” or “an all-expenses paid trip to the Bahamas”, don’t get too excited. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. The moment they start asking you for your private information, hang up.
- Are they asking for immediate payment? Never give your card info over the phone. If they claim you owe them money, ask them to mail you a hardcopy of the bill. If they’re real, they should have no problem doing this for you. Don’t give any payment information unless you know for sure they’re legitimate.
- Are you familiar with the caller? This may be plain common sense, but it still has to be said. If you just don’t know the person you’re talking to, don’t share anything with them. It’s as simple as that. If you have no idea who they are or why exactly they’re calling, just let it go. Generally, if they’re the real deal, they’ll call back. Telephone scammers will just move on to the next person.
- Do they call at weird hours? Legit callers may ring you anytime within normal business hours. Any calls outside that timeframe should be taken with strong caution. Plus, if they’re calling late into the night, or before the break of dawn, why would you answer them anyway? If they disrupted your beauty sleep, don’t give them the pleasure of speaking to you.
- Are they speaking bad English? Have you ever gotten a call from somebody who barely spoke a word of English? Red flag, maybe? It rarely happens, but if it ever does, you guessed it, hang up.
- Are they being pushy? If the caller is being too pushy and practically demanding information from you, don’t let them shake you up. Stand your ground and keep asking questions. Remember, if they called you, you’re allowed to ask as many questions as you wish, and you’re never obligated to give anything out. If they start to sound suspicious at all, hang-it-up.
What to do if you’ve become a victim
If you do become a victim of identity theft, it’s important not to panic. Call your bank and let them know of any suspicious charges on your account so they can open up an investigation. Most banks are willing to work with you to get your money back and keep your money safe. They can even close your account and open a new one for you if necessary. Also, be sure to report any fraudulent activity to the National Consumers League.
If your identity was stolen and you need help to fill the financial gap, talk to your local lender today about short-term relief options that might be helpful in your time of need.