You may already know that identity theft is growing in the U.S. – from enormous hacks of Target and the IRS, to cases of individual theft, identity theft getting worse every day. In fact, 7% of Americans have their identity stolen every year and that number is growing, fast.
How can you be safe? There’s a few easy tricks you can use to prevent identity theft – or minimize the problem when it happens.
Use Strong Passwords
Use strong passwords that are at least 8 characters long and include numbers, symbols, and even spaces. You’re usually required to use a strong password when you create an account. Don’t use the same password for every account. Don’t usewords or numbers that are obviously connected to you, such as a birthdate or your spouse’s name.
Be Aware of Common Online Scams
From Nigerian scams (yes, they’re now an entire class of scam) to fake romance scams (often known as “catfishing”) – there’s a whole slice of the online world just waiting to get their hands on your personal information.
That’s why it’s important to know the most common types of online scams and how to prevent them. It’s easier than you think, even with so many types of scams out there: only deal with someone you can meet in person. This simple trick will avoid most scammers. Ifyou’re still unsure, try using a people search tool.
A good tool works with just a phone number, email address or name. Plug whatever you have and you can see court and criminal records, arrest records, even links to social media profiles. This is a fast and easy way to find out who you’re dealing with.
Use a Credit Card
Credit cards almost always provide better fraud protection than a debit card. In fact, your liability for fraud on your credit card is only $50. Debit cards have a much, much higher liability cap meaning, if your identity is stolen, you’re on the hook for more money – up to $500 in many cases.
Monitor Your Accounts
Keep an eye on your accounts. Consider using an account monitoring system if you want. Don’t just keep an eye on bank accounts either. Check your unused social media profiles, your credit score and even consider running a background check on yourself. There are plenty of tools out there that watch your credit report, alerting you when something’s gone wrong and a people search engine works well when you plug yourself into it.
Don’t Give Out Personal Information
Never give out your personal information to people you don’t know. This means credit card numbers, bank account info, social security numbers and account passwords but also personal contact info. Don’t leave mail in your mailbox, don’t forget to completely wipe your computers and phones when you sell them, and don’t share details about your family or where you work with people you don’t know.
Don’t Open Weird Emails
Did you get an email that looks like garbled, broken English? Don’t even open it. It’s likely something that got past your spam filters and it’s probably up to no good. Emails like this commonly have a virus or worm attached that can – in extreme cases – mine your computer for passwords and other sensitive information. If you don’t recognize the sender, toss it in the trash. If the emails seems out of character for your contact, toss it and let the sender know they may be hacked.
Staying safe online is getting more difficult each year, and identity theft is becoming the new normal. If it happens to you, don’t panic. Call your bank or credit card agency and report the problem right away. Usually stolen funds are returned to your account in a few business days.
Stay alert! If you meet someone online, deal with them face to face before you make a big decision with them, and stay informed by doing public record checks on people you don’t trust.