Bad actors can get up to a lot of trouble with just a small amount of your personal information. These simple yet effective tips will help you prevent identity theft.
As scammers and identity thieves get more brazen about stealing your information, it’s important to remain a few steps ahead.
Protect your electronic devices
Ever have a parent or friend tell you their phone password for help with a tech issue only to have your stomach drop at how simple or obvious it is?
What’s worse, have you come to realize that they’re using that same insecure password repeatedly across their online identity?
It’s not an exaggeration to say that much of our lives today can be accessed through our smartphones and other personal technology.
Perform the following today:
- Protect your phones, laptops, smartwatches and other devices accordingly.
- Use a unique alphanumeric password (including symbols) for every device, and make sure they’re not easy to guess (that includes any references to easily accessible personal data such as your phone number, birthday or address).
- Take advantage of Apple’s Keychain or Google’s Password Manager—two native free password management services—or a reputable subscription service, like 1Password.
- Purchase decent antivirus software that comes with ransomware protection. Whether you have a PC or Mac, Android or iPhone, as you can get a virus on your phone, providing easy access to your bank accounts, private conversations, photos, documents, social media accounts, and more.
Of course, it’s still important to avoid opening links and files from unknown sources, but these simple protections can offer you some extra peace of mind.
Create physical safeguards for private, offline information
You also need to protect your personal information in the real world.
Buy a heavier, difficult-to-move safe (preferably with extra protection against the elements). Place every form of identification inside that you don’t need on a daily basis, such as your passport, Global Entry card, birth certificate, Social Security card, and any extraneous copies of your driver’s license.
Invest in a cross-cut shredder with enough power to shred credit cards. Shred expired cards and any mail you no longer need that features your social security number, bank account balances, and other sensitive details.
Pro Tip: Consider switching to paperless statements to reduce the risk of incidents caused by mail theft.
Get super diligent about collecting your physical mail
Identity thieves love snail mail. Make a habit of emptying your mailbox every day to ensure nothing sensitive gets snatched overnight.
It’s also a great idea to sign up for Informed Delivery, a free service offered by the United States Postal Service. Once you register and verify your identity, you’ll receive an email on every day that you can expect to receive mail. Most emails will show photo previews for mail arriving the same day, though sometimes the pictured mail might take a few days to arrive.
Finally, check the USPS website to see if your home address is eligible to hold mail. It’s a convenient service that helps you safeguard your personal information every time you know you’ll be out of town. If they don’t offer the service for your address, get a trusted friend or family member to pick up your mail every day.
Use payment methods that hide your card information
To protect your debit and credit card accounts, only use your actual card numbers when you absolutely must.
Apple Pay is one amazing option. It’s a secure, digital wallet designed to let you shop without sharing your true card information. Google Pay is similar (the biggest difference is that Apple Pay doesn’t store your card information on its servers).
Pro Tip: Add your Eco debit card to one of these secure virtual wallets.
Some credit card companies offer alternative ways to shop without sharing your credit card number, such as browser extensions that add virtual card numbers to payment forms online.
Be extremely selective about sharing sensitive information online
Data breaches have unfortunately become common. It’s in your interest to become extremely picky about what information you share online.
Think twice before sharing your home address and your date of birth. Many apps, social media networks, and shopping websites require you to share your birthday. If it’s a government website, financial services, healthcare, or another official website or app, you are legally obligated to share your correct date of birth. Thankfully, they’re also more likely to do a better job of safeguarding your information.
As for other sites, consider using the same false date of birth every time. It can even be a different day in your actual birthday month (useful for birthday discount offers and promotions), but be sure to change the day and year. Store your false date of birth in a secure password manager so you won’t forget it.
In the same spirit, don’t use true responses to online security questions (you can use this tip across websites of every type). For example, if the question asks for the name of the street you grew up on, consider writing an answer that has absolutely nothing to do with the name of that street or any street, such as a series of random words. Then save the answer securely in your password manager.
Bottom line: Identity theft can be time-consuming, inconvenient and expensive. The good news is you don’t need to be a cybersecurity expert to protect your personal information. Start putting these simple tips into action today.