A clean and well organized home is what we all strive for when we think of spring cleaning, but these days there should be more involved in this annual tradition. Living in the digital age, it’s a good time to also clean up and put order to sensitive documents on your computer as well as your filing cabinet in order to protect your identity and finances.
The reality is that identity theft is on the rise. According to the Identity Theft Council, an estimated 10,000 identity theft rings are operating in the U.S. Victims of this crime will tell you of the devastating effects it can take on their finances, credit and reputation. Despite more attention being drawn to the problem, people continue to become victims. Unfortunately, some not becoming aware of the problem for months or years, compounding the damage.
The good news is there are simple preventative measures we can all take to help safeguard ourselves from identity theft. Following these tips can put you a step ahead of identity thieves this spring and throughout the year:
6 Tips to Protect Your Identity
Security software is a must. We lock our front doors and our car doors to protect our possessions. We must do the same for our computer. It’s essential to have up-to-date virus protection, anti-spyware and anti-malware on your computer to help protect against the threat of hackers gaining access to sensitive information such as bank account and credit card numbers. It’s also important to make sure the software is up to date and set to run every day.
Passwords – change them often. Passwords are a key defense in protecting our identity and need to be maintained on a regular basis. Stay clear of using obvious words such as your name or mother’s maiden name. Instead create strong passwords that include numerals, special characters, upper and lowercase letters and have at least eight characters. Mark your calendar every few months to change the passwords, creating a different one for every account.
Safe social networking. How friendly are you really with your “friends” on Facebook or other social sites? Be mindful of accepting a “friend” request from individuals you are not very familiar with as it allows them access to all the information on your profile. Rule of thumb is to minimize the amount of information you reveal in your profile and stick to accepting connection requests from only those you truly know.
Always shred. The old adage “your trash is someone else’s treasure” rings true with old documents. Simply throwing away a document that could include account numbers or your social security number could be a gold mine for an identity thief who is willing to rummage through garbage. Take the time to shred sensitive personal documents you no longer plan to keep.
Your phone needs protecting too: Today’s smartphones are essentially a mobile computer allowing you access to important information and accounts once only found on your computer, so safeguarding it is a necessity. In case your phone is lost or stolen, installing remote finding and wiping software can help you track your phone and delete data from it. Additionally, set your phone to lock up if not in use with access only available by a password or PIN you have created.
What’s in your wallet? Be mindful of what you carry in your wallet. Stick to carrying only identification and credit cards you use/need on a frequent basis. PINs or passwords for credit or debit cards should never be written on the back of the cards or anywhere else in a purse or wallet. Your social security, passport and birth certificate should be securely stored at home. Although not a common practice anymore, make sure any forms of ID, such as a library or gym cards that uses your SSN as a membership number be changed with the old card being shredded and discarded.
About Becky Frost: Becky Frost is Senior Manager of Consumer Education for Experian Consumer Services, which offers identity protection products like ProtectMyID®. Find Becky on Google Plus.