Identity theft is an increasingly worrisome topic for many. With more than a million people affected by identity theft each year, the below are some steps and strategies you can implement to ensure you and your family are protected:
Check Your Credit Annually. Visit a website such as www.annualcreditreport.com for a free copy of your credit report and verify all information is accurate. For an extra layer of protection, consider enrolling in a credit monitoring service which can monitor all 3 credit reporting agencies in real time and alert you of any unusual activity.
Review Credit and Debit Card Statements Monthly. Take time to ensure all transactions are legitimate. If you see a questionable charge, contact your bank or credit card company immediately.
Keep Your Personal Information Secure. Don’t share personal information such as your full name, date of birth, SSN, address or phone number over the internet unless it’s a site you’ve initiated contact with and you’re certain it’s secure. Refrain from posting personal details such as your birthday or address on social media sites.
Limit What You Carry. Don not carry your social security card and limit the number of credit cards you have on hand.
Purchase a Micro-Cut Shredder. This machine ensures that your documents cannot be pieced back together. Use it to turn old financial statements, bills, credit card offers and any other secure or personal information into paper confetti.
Opt Out. You can opt out of prescreened offers for credit cards, insurance and more by calling 1-888-567-8688 or visiting www.optoutprescreen.com.
Keep Your Snail Mail Safe. Instead of leaving your outgoing mail in your mailbox, drop it off at a secure USPS center. In addition, if you know you’ll be out of town for a few days, request a vacation hold on your mail.
Keep Your Passwords Safe, Secure and Unique. Make sure your passwords are strong and get creative with them. Use a combination of letters, numbers and symbols and update them every few months. Think you’re already unique? Check out this list for 2012’s most common passwords: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-205_162-57539366/the-25-most-common-passwords-of-2012.
Bulk Up on Security. Safeguard your computer with firewall, antivirus and spyware protection and update them often. This will protect your computer and files against intrusions.
Be Cautious of What You Click. If you receive an e-mail from a stranger or even a friend with links and attachments, know that opening them could expose your computer and files to a virus. Ask yourself if any part of the e-mail looks suspicious before clicking on links or files.
The above are just a few smart steps to ensure your identity is protected. Remain vigilant about how you share your personal information and who you share it with. Do your research and take necessary precautions to ensure your identity remains with you and you only.
Mary Beth Storjohann, CFP®, CDFA
Senior Financial Planner
San Diego, CA