5 Tips to Help Prevent Identity Theft
“Identity theft” is the modern day Boogie Man. It’s a looming threat that many of us know little about, especially how to protect against it, or in many cases how it happens and what it looks like.
Identity theft is when any personal information has been collected and compromised by someone other than yourself. This can be any identifying information, like a driver’s license number, a Social Security number, personal address or credit card—anything that can be used to impersonate you in a legal setting.
Identity thieves use this information for financial gain, leaving the victim defenseless. Spending money in the victim’s name or racking up unpaid debt can wreak havoc on the victim’s credit record.
Especially considering the amount of increased online and financial activity that happens during the holiday season, here are five steps to help prevent identity theft:
1. Be aware.
If something seems shady, it’s usually because it is. Follow your gut, especially when it comes to email links and phone calls. Professional, reputable agencies will not call you and ask for your personal or account information over the phone. If you don’t recognize a sender via email, don’t share anything with them or click on links they send you.
2. Don’t use public Wi-Fi for personal matters.
Wireless connections at libraries or coffeehouses are not secure for online activity like checking your bank account or other sensitive information. It is easy for hackers to see what you’re doing on a public access Wi-Fi, so save the personal browsing for your secure home connection.
3. Store and destroy securely.
Keep your personal documents stored in a locked, fireproof safe in a secure location. You should not carry around personal documents on your person. Things like your Social Security card, birth certificate and passport should be kept locked away except for instances when you need them. For other documents like bank statements, you can dispose of them after around seven years—for standard documents. But always make sure to shred your documents to prevent people from dumpster diving for your personal information.
4. Don’t share information digitally.
Regardless of your type of internet connection, be careful about sharing personal information on websites. Make sure the website is reputable and that you searched for them as opposed to clicking on a link that they sent you. Often times fraudsters will create look-a-like websites to “phish” for your personal information. That also includes being careful what you send over email, Facebook messenger, and other online forms of chats.
5. Have it covered in your policy.
You can only truly protect your identity through taking precautions like the ones we’ve outlined here. However, you can make sure you’re covered financially in the event of identity theft through a simple rider you can add to your homeowners policy. Identity Theft riders vary slightly between carriers but for approximately $12 to $20 per year (not per month), you can get reimbursed for up to around $25,000 for time and resources spent trying to recover your stolen identity. This includes things like wages lost while missing work to deal with it, expenses incurred directly related to the recovery such as child care plus attorney’s fees for help with the process.
Some agencies like CommunityAmerica typically include this rider in the policies we write; however it is always a good idea to check with your agent. For an extra $1 or $2 per month, you can easily save yourself some pain and suffering if your identify is compromised.