Identity theft can be a life altering event that puts your financial well-being in jeopardy. Many people underestimate the possibility that their identity could be stolen - a 2017 Experian survey revealed that 81 percent of U.S. adults rely solely on their bank or credit card provider to defend them against the risk of identity theft. While there is no way to completely eliminate the chance of identity theft, there are many ways to greatly reduce the chance of having your identity compromised. Here are our top five ways to protect yourself from identity theft.
Setting up spending alerts for your credit card or bank account is an easy way to stay on top of your financial activity. US News notes that most banks offer alerts by text, email, or app notifications that let you know immediately when purchases have been made, allowing you to stay out in front of scammers and react quickly if your accounts are compromised.
Pay Attention to Passwords
Setting strong passwords is essential to keeping your digital life secure. It's best to use a completely random string of characters, but always use at least a combination of upper case, lower case, and symbol characters that don't contain any information that could be easily guessed, like your name or address. Experian also recommends using a different password for each of your accounts, but this can be difficult with so many services available today. Consider using password management software that generates unique passwords for you, then fills them in on different websites unlocked by a master password you remember.
Secure Your Mailbox
Digital identity theft has become increasingly common over the last decade, but the low-tech schemes like stealing credit card applications or other sensitive personal data out of your mailbox can be just as problematic. Always try to secure your mail promptly after delivery, and LifeLock suggests adding a lock mechanism if you don't have one already.
Fire Up the Shredder
Security doesn't end after mail and other documents have made it into your home. Common thieves will often check trash bins or dumpsters outside both homes and businesses hoping to score some of your personal information. NerdWallet reminds us diligently shredding documents being disposed of should be second nature, including credit cards you plan to throw out and junk mail that could be used to submit fraudulent applications.
Freeze Your Credit
One of the best ways to stop identity theft in its tracks is to ask the three major credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion to put a freeze on your credit. Credit Karma explains this will prevent any new credit applications from being processed or accounts being opened in your name, including ones submitted by the real you! When you're ready to submit a new application, simply unfreeze your credit and things will proceed as normal. It's recommended to freeze your credit again once you're finished to maximize your protection.
Protecting your identity has become increasingly complicated, but good habits and the right tools can make you a far more difficult target than the average person. Use these tips to keep identity theft at bay while you continue building a bright financial future for you and your family.