Identity thieves are getting more sophisticated, and as we head further into the year, identity theft remains at the top of many taxpayers’ list of concerns. This concern isn’t misplaced; a 2015 Identity Fraud Study purported that 12.7 million consumers became victims of identity theft in 2014, resulting in $16 billion stolen—that works out to a new victim every two seconds. While no method is foolproof, there are many things you can do to decrease your chances of falling prey to opportunistic identity thieves.
Guard Your Social Security Number
Be wary of who you give your social security number to, and never keep the card in your wallet. There are few times in your life you’ll need the actual card, so keep it protected in a safe at home. Should a thief get ahold of this card, they could run up huge bills, costing you thousands of dollars. The consequences extend beyond monetary losses. If someone were to access this information, they could be employed under your name, commit crimes using your identity, and even open new credit card accounts that could cost your credit score (and ability to receive loans) in the long run. For situations where you are required to disclose it, i.e., a rental situation, make sure you go through a vetted screen process. As most landlords will require a landlord credit check, do it through a service that keeps your information safe. Be wary of inputting your social security number on online outlets. Always ask how the information will be used, and always be wary of phone calls or emails requesting your social security number.
Keeping track of passwords is no easy task, but it’s in your best interest to make your varied passwords different and complicated. Modern generations use a bevy of websites that require passwords, from banking to shopping to credit card statements, and it’s worth it to take the time to create secure passwords. It’s also in your best interest to update these passwords occasionally, and avoid using the same password for multiple accounts.
Many of us handle our bills through automation systems, but failing to monitor your statements gives identity thieves the loophole they need to access your sensitive information and use it without your knowledge. By performing weekly or monthly checks, you have a better chance of catching suspicious activity and righting it before you lose hundreds or thousands of dollars. You can use free online services like Credit Sesame to watch your credit score, and many services like this offer real-time alert systems that will notify you of suspicious or fraudulent activity right away.
Disposing of Sensitive Documents
If you have piles of documents containing sensitive information that you no longer need, do your due diligence and dispose of them correctly. An act as simple as purchasing a shredder could save you thousands down the road. This is also an essential step at your place of work; it never hurts to check with your employer that documents pertaining to your sensitive information are disposed of properly.
File Your Taxes Early
The sooner you file your taxes, the smaller the chance your sensitive information will be stolen. The quicker you file your return, the less opportunity for a scammer to file a return under your name. Should you fall victim to tax-related identity theft, it will likely take over a year for you to actually see your refund.
Watch What You Share
Social media saturates our lives, but it’s essential that we remain cautious with the amount of information that we put up for public inspection. Many social media outlets require users to provide sensitive information for access to their services, but many of these items could easily help thieves in their aims of stealing your identity. Never list your home address, full name, or birth date, as all are likely to be used for fraudulent aims. Avoid adding anyone into your social network that you don’t personally know—it’s worth it to be overly cautious, especially in today’s world.
If you’re not already doing all you can to avoid becoming prey to identity theft, consider incorporating these simple steps into your everyday life. Practicing caution in this manner could save you thousands of dollars.