Theres nothing quite as miserable as having your identity stolen from right under your nose. Just one card number can give a clever thief the ability to mine information such as your name, your address and sometimes even your social security number. Using that, they can open multiple lines of credit in your name and basically go bull-in-a-china-shop crazy all over your finances and credit report. It can take months or even years to clean up the mess an identity thief has caused, and sometimes the victims never fully recover from the damage.
However, for all of the trouble identity theft causes, it’s a shockingly easy crime to prevent. You dont even need to enroll in one of those paid identity protection services to do it. All that’s required is a little common sense. Here are four really, really easy ways you can avoid becoming a victim of identity theft.
1) Stop using your debit card. Unless youre making an ATM withdrawal, there’s no good reason your debit card should ever leave your wallet. Debit cards give thieves complete access to your money, and if they decide to raid your checking account it will be much harder to fix than a handful of fraudulent credit card charges on your monthly statement. In fact, if you dont notice that a thief has been illegally using your debit card within 60 days, the bank isnt required to reimburse you at all. That’s why it’s smart to stick to credit or cash when you make purchases.
2) Use a variety of strong passwords. If you use one password for your various accounts, a thief gets a skeleton key to all of your personal information. It’s even worse when you make that password easy to crack like tacos123. A good password should be between eight and 20 characters long and should feature a combination of numbers, capital letters and lowercase letters like IH3artTacos123. You can use the same password to cover your non-financial accounts, such as forums and online game memberships, but each one of your banking and online shopping accounts should have its own unique password.
3) Lock down your smart phone. Identity theft rose by 13% last year, and smartphones are partly to blame. Why? Because many consumers carelessly link their social media accounts and other personal info to their phones without any sort of password protection. This makes it easy for a thief to swipe an unattended phone and use the information on the device to open up credit cards in the owners name. Always lock your phone with a password, regardless of how inconvenient it seems. This should stall a thief long enough for you to report the phone stolen and get it shut down before any further damage can be done.
4) Check your credit report once a year. No matter how careful you are, it’s pretty much always possible for thieves to obtain your personal information without your knowledge. Thats why its incredibly important to check your credit report once a year. The first check you do each year is free, and you’ll be able to see all the financial activity associated with your social security number. This includes how many credit cards you own, which loans you’ve taken out and more. When you check your credit report, youll be able to discover whether youve been a victim of identity theft before your cards start getting declined.
A little common sense can go a long way toward preventing identity theft. While these simple tips wont make you totally immune from identity theft, theyll definitely reduce your chances of becoming a victim. Remember, its a dangerous world out there, and its better to be safe than sorry.
P.S. If for any reason you suspect that your identity might have been stolen, it’s a good idea to file a police report immediately and put a fraud alert on your credit report. This will stop negative information from appearing on your report while you work with your banks and lenders to repair your good financial name.