Don’t be a Horror Story: Protect Yourself from Identity Theft

Protecting yourself from identity theft can almost seem like a job in itself, and it seems like the criminals are always one step ahead of the good guys. If you’re like most people though, you probably know someone, or have at least heard a good horror story or two, from people who have suffered identity theft. And more than likely it took these poor souls a lot of work to straighten out the issues created by the theft of their identity — issues you would probably like to avoid.

If you would prefer to be proactive to the threat of identity theft rather than reactive, here are a few steps you might take that can help you protect yourself.

Mail and Documents

Knowing when particular bills and account statements arrive can be instrumental in recognizing when something might be amiss. Not receiving regularly scheduled bills, or account statements coming in haphazardly might indicate a case of identity theft. On the other hand, receiving similar documents for accounts that you don’t recognize but are in your name could also be a red flag that someone has opened accounts in your name without your knowledge. Getting bills and statements online might be one way to circumvent the possibility of identity theft through the mail.

It is also important to remember that once these types of documents enter the house, they still aren’t completely safe. Should you throw paper statements away in the trash, you are risking the chance that they might fall into someone else’s hands. Therefore, if you plan to dispose of such documents, typically the safest way is either by burning them or cross-cut shredding them.

General Security

Some documents like house or car titles, tax information, and other paperwork with critical personal information contained upon it, can’t be shredded or destroyed. It might therefore be pertinent to rent a safety deposit box which may be used to hold some of these documents. However, a safety deposit box might not be feasible for all documents since it might be troublesome to go back and forth to obtain needed information or you might just have too much.

Therefore, you might want to have a central location in your home for your important documents that you may need to refer to on a regular basis. With a space in which this information is filed neatly and orderly, you can tell if something has been disturbed should a break-in of your home occur.

Internet

The internet is probably one of the easiest ways to have your identity stolen these days. With the proliferation of online shopping, phishing scams, viruses and keystroke capturing programs, the internet is full of potential threats to your personal and financial information. By making use of virus scan software, only using known and trusted internet sites, and restricting the amount of information you provide over the internet, you can better protect yourself from threats. You might also reduce the risk of financial security breaches by using payment programs like PayPal to make internet purchases.

Credit Reports and Common Sense

Checking your credit reports can be another good way to protect yourself from or identify identity theft. At https://www.annualcreditreport.com/ you can start the process of checking your credit reports. You can select one free annual report each from TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax, choosing to do all three at one time or spacing them out throughout the year. Spacing them out might allow you to keep a better eye on your credit so that there isn’t a year long gap between when your run the reports.

Using your common sense in situations in which you think something might be amiss or when you are uncomfortable providing personal information may also be key to protecting your identity. Strange calls from collection agents or charges for products or services you never requested might also be red flags that your personal information has been compromised.

For more information regarding identity theft, how to protect yourself, and what to do should identity theft occur, you can visit the FTC’s Identity Theft Website at: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/.