In the last six years, U.S. consumers had more than $107 billion dollars stolen due to identity theft. The AARP estimates that an identity is stolen every two seconds. Protecting yourself and your loved ones has never been more important.
How can you make sure it doesn't happen to you?
START AT HOME
Getting started with protecting yourself doesn't have to be daunting. Beginning with guarding non-digital information is a great way to go. That means keeping your social security card safe. Consider a home safe or lockbox, or even a bank's safe deposit box to store it and other important documents.
Securing your mail is also key. Consider getting a locking mailbox or cancelling paper credit card and financial statements. If you continue to receive these by mail, always shred identifying documents at home before disposing of them.
Thieves will also target those who have passed. Make sure not to list dates of birth or maiden names in death notices.
SECURE YOUR CYBERWORLD
Once you have safeguarded your physical paperwork and identifying information, secure your cyberworld. Always set up passwords for smartphones and computers and tablets. Check your credit reports periodically for misinformation or accounts that appear fraudulent. You are entitled to a free credit report every year without damaging your score. Freecreditreport.com or creditkarma.com are each good places to check. Both will show credit inquiries and potentially damaging marks. Creditkarma.com will also report to you when anything on your credit report changes or if there has been a new credit inquiry.
If your wallet or other identifying information should be lost or stolen, consider placing a fraud alert with the credit bureaus. The Federal Trade Commission says, "A fraud alert can make it harder for an identity thief to open more accounts in your name". For advice from the FTC on how to set it up, CLICK HERE.
DON'T FALL FOR PHISHING
Wikipedia defines phishing as, "is the fraudulent attempt to obtain sensitive information such as usernames, passwords and credit card details by disguising as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication". This can be an email appearing to be from your bank or creditor, or even from a government agency. Make no mistake, these thieves are clever. They even do it by phone, and some have learned how hack caller ID, making it seem like they are calling from a legitimate telephone number. It's called caller ID spoofing. No matter what, don't give out sensitive information to anyone who calls or emails you - even if they already have some of your information. Criminals might have the last 4 digits of your bank or credit card number from a stolen receipt, for instance, and ask you to verify the full number. Some may even have the last 4 digits of your Social Security number and ask for the whole thing to "verify it". Don't click on links within emails either. Crooks have gotten very creative and crafted links to dummy sites that might look just like your bank or credit card's site. These links can also lead to spyware and other malicious items being downloaded to your devices. Instead, call your institution directly, at a number you can verify from your statement.
Unfortunately, scams are likely here to stay. Still, an ounce of prevention can equal a pound of cure. In other words, stay vigilant! The AARP of Massachusetts' Fraud Network is a great place to find warnings about the latest scams.CLICK HERE for their most recent updates.
We'd love to hear what steps you've taken to stay secure. Let us know in the comments below.