Tens of millions of people have fallen victim to some sort of identity theft. They face not only the expense of resolving the situation, but also may have problems with their credit history for years afterwards.
However, there are quite a few steps you can take to protect your own identity:
1. Shred sensitive documents
Shredding any documents with your financial information, Social Security number or other sensitive information is a bare minimum to protect your identity.
2. Use a locking mailbox
For an identity thief, getting their hands on your paperwork can be just as easy as opening your mailbox and pulling out a few envelopes. Having a lock on your mailbox can protect you.
3. Contact the post office if there’s major changes in your mail
If you suddenly stop getting mail, check to make sure that no mail forwarding was set up without your knowledge. You should also contact the post office if you think your mail may have been stolen.
4. Put your cards, passports and other documents somewhere safe
The fewer pieces of sensitive information you carry around with you every day, the less chance you have of losing something.
5. Change your PINs and passwords regularly
It’s rare to find someone who changes their passwords on a regular basis, but it’s important. And that goes double for your bank and credit card accounts.
6. Protect your computer
Keeping your anti-virus software and spam filters up to date should be a priority no matter how much or how little you use your computer.
7. Keep in mind how much information is already out there about you
When you’re setting passwords and security questions, remember that information like the name of your high school, your mother’s maiden name and even your first pet are probably out on the internet somewhere.
8. Minimize who actually has your information
Many of the forms that ask for your Social Security number and other personal information don’t actually need it. You’re well within your rights to ask how a particular organization plans to use particular bits of information before handing them over.
9. Check into security breaches
If you hear that your information could have been included in a security breach, it’s worth checking into. Banks and other companies with access to your information will usually be able to tell you just what information got out and what sort of problems to look for.
10. Beware of emails from eBay and banks
Even I have been fooled in the past when I was rushed and responded to an eBay fishing scam (I knew I had something up for auction under my name, and someone else had posted it for me). Fortunately I realized that it was likely an identity theft scenario shortly after I did it, but I still had to go through all the paperwork and security precautions as a follow up.
So as number ten, I would advise you to make sure that you are VERY careful about responding to any bank or eBay requests, and NEVER enter your password and username in response to an email they send unless you first call them to confirm it is an authentic email.