Here’s what you should do starting now to help prevent identity theft:
- Guard your personal information like your life depended on it: Give out your Social Security number? Maybe, but always ask whether it is necessary in order to complete the transaction. If the company you’re dealing with doesn’t require it, don’t give it. And never give it to a total stranger.
- Be less active on social media: Your friends don’t care if you just left for a ten-day jaunt to Machu Picchu, or if you love the new $10,000 home entertainment system that just got delivered. But thieves care. They’re scouring social media, monitoring when you’re away from home, and compiling profiles on you to sell to others or to use themselves in an upcoming scam. As Adam Levin says, “Facebook and other social media sites can be an identity thief’s El Dorado.”
- Warn the young’uns (and the old’uns): Children give up a lot of information on social media, and thieves know it. Warn them about the dangers. Your elderly parents and grandparents are likewise easy targets. Alert them to common scams involving technology, and remind them that when they become Facebook friends with their grandchildren, they, too, need to be careful not to overshare. One easy hint: Never ever put your year of birth out there, and don’t assume that social media instant or direct messages are secure.
- Ditch the 12345678: You need stronger passwords than that. And you should be changing them every month. I know, this sucks, but there is a reason your company is making you do this, too! If it helps, get yourself a password generator.
- Two-factor it, baby: Passwords aren’t enough. When possible, protect your accounts with two-factor authorization. It’s like having a double dead bolt on your front door. It’s like wearing two condoms instead of one. Yikes, you get the idea.
- Whip out the credit card: If you get scammed on your debit card, you might have to eat the loss. Credit card companies usually do the eatin’.
- Fortify the WiFi: The next time you find yourself in an airport terminal logging into a public WiFi system in order to check your bank balance or pay your bills, know that you’re being absolutely ridiculous. Two words: secured networks only. I know, that was three words.
- Read before paying: I’m asking you to do the unthinkable and spend three minutes actually perusing your credit card statement before you click “Pay full balance” on the website. It’s so easy to do—and even easier to forget to do. But how else are you going to know your account has been compromised? Here’s another way: Have your financial institution notify you if a payment over a fixed amount has been authorised. Most institutions offer this service.
- Go in for your twelve-month checkup: What does getting a physical exam have to do with identity theft? Nothing—I’m talking about checking on your credit scores once a year, just to make sure Dmitri in Vladivostok didn’t take out a car loan in your name to buy his new Buick. Best of all, it’s free on noddle.co.uk.
- Look, listen, and learn: Stay abreast of the latest scams and frauds. Aside from just keeping an eye out as you get your daily news fix, you could set up a Google news alert on the topic. And be sure to consult the IRS’s “Dirty Dozen,” its annual list of tax scams.
Related resources: https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/consumer/scams/common-scams/
What if your data has already been compromised? Don’t panic. You can take real steps to protect yourself in an hour or less. Contact either Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion and request that they attach a “fraud alert” to your report.