5 Ways to Harden Yourself Against Identity Theft
Identity theft is one of the most frightening crimes out there, even though it’s not a violent crime. One of the things that make it really frightening is that most people don’t understand how it’s actually done. While some identity theft tactics involve tried-and-true techniques such as going through people’s mail and garbage, other tactics involve sophisticated technological tools that harvest information from databases, financial transactions and other sources of identity data.
You can Harden yourself against identity theft, and you don’t have to be a technological wizard to do it. Here are five things you can do, starting right now, that will make a difference.
Shred Sensitive Documents
Paper documents are becoming less and less important, but people still do routinely get sensitive information in the mail and from other sources that is on paper. You need to identify which types of items are the most valuable to identity thieves and make sure you shred them.
The New York Times gives some excellent advice in this regard and, in the most basic sense, anything that has your Social Security number on it or information about an account should be shredded. Use some common sense in regards to other items that you may want to shred. If you’re in doubt, shred it.
Be Wary About Sharing Your Social Security Number
Unfortunately, it’s become routine for entities that don’t necessarily need your Social Security number to ask for it. This sets up a confusing situation where it’s easy for identity thieves to get a Social Security number out of someone, simply because it’s not uncommon to be asked for it.
If you are asked for your Social Security number, ask why. Remember that, if it’s not a service you need – such as a power company, utility company, background check for an apartment lease, etc. – you can always decline to give it. If you can’t think of a single reason why someone needs your Social Security number, it may be because there is no reason they need your Social Security number, other than to exploit your identity.
Be Careful on Social Media
Be very careful about what you share with people on social media. You may not share everything about yourself in one gigantic post, but it’s feasible that somebody could take a lot of your individual posts and put together a pretty good picture of you, possibly with some potentially sensitive identifying information that could be used for criminal purposes.
If the social media network you are on allows you to, make your profile private. Make sure you don’t share information inadvertently, such as your license plate number in a picture, your phone number, your address and so forth. It’s always best to assume that whatever you put on a social media network will be accessible to anyone and everyone on the Internet and to interact with the service in that way. It’s not as much fun, but it’s a lot more fun than having to close all your credit cards, lock down your bank account and figure out what you’re going to do about fraudulent charges made in your name.
Change Your Passwords
There’s some debate about how useful it is to change your passwords on a regular basis, but there most certainly are occasions when you should. For example, if you let somebody use your computer and you give them a password so they can log into something on it, you should change it afterward, even if they are a trusted friend. It prevents you from ever having to wonder if something happens to go wrong.
You should also change your password if you have any reason to believe somebody else may have gotten access to an account. On low security accounts, it’s not much to worry about. On any kind of high-security account, however, such as your bank and so forth, you should change it whenever you have a suspicion. Make sure you use uppercase and lowercase letters, symbols and numbers in your password and never use a dictionary word.
Encrypt Your Traffic
Something you may want to consider is a VPN or Virtual Private Network service. There are a lot of private providers for these and they encrypt your traffic when you’re surfing on the Internet, so nobody can look in and see what you’re doing. It’s a great security measure and it can help keep you safe from people trying to monitor your traffic as it goes across a network.
Nobody is invincible to identity theft but, by following these five tips and other good advice you find, you can be a much harder target.