An American becomes a victim of identity theft every two minutes, according to an article by Forbes. So, what is identity theft exactly and what can an average person do to prevent it identity theft.
Identity theft occurs when someone steals your information, such as your name, credit card details, and/or social security number, and uses that information to commit a crime. This kind of theft is now one of the fastest growing crimes in the United States as mentioned by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service. While the number of identity theft victims fell to 14.4 million in 2018 compared to 16.7 million in 2017, however around $14.8 billion is still lost due to identity theft.
You can follow these tips in order to protect yourself from identity theft:
● Use strong passwords and PINs. Your passwords and PINs shouldn’t be something anyone could guess, even if they had access to some of your personal information. Avoid names, addresses, and birth dates
● Keep passwords and PINS safe. Never store passwords or sensitive information unencrypted on your computer. If you have a physical “cheat sheet” of log-in information, keep it locked up
● Turn on two-factor authentication. Many email services and popular social media platforms allow you to log on using two-factor authentication. This enhanced security protocol adds an extra step to confirm your identity even after you enter your username and password.
● Create log-in passwords for all your devices. Whether you plan to take a device outside your home, all should have log-in passwords so the information cannot be accessed in the event someone gets ahold of the device.
● Protect your computer. Identity thieves use complex software such as spyware and key loggers to obtain sensitive information. A strong and regularly updated firewall, anti-virus program and anti-spyware program will provide most of the protection you need.
● Beware of phishing scams. You may receive a seemingly harmless email asking you to verify certain things such as your password, account number, or personal identification information. Any email seeking this sort of information should be an immediate red flag for you. The best response is to contact the service provider directly and ask what’s up
● Restore old computers to factory settings. Whether you’re selling an old computer, recycling it, or throwing it away, make sure you get rid of it safely. Restoring it to factory settings ensures all of your information is gone. Do the same with mobile devices.
● Encrypt your hard drive. Most Apple- and Windows-based computers have an option that allows you to easily encrypt the information on your hard drive. Check the security tab in your settings and follow the prompts to activate encryption.
● Take care when posting on social media. Check your security settings on your social media accounts, and avoid posting personal information publicly, or publicly “checking in” to places. Identity thieves as well as burglars can use this information to identify targets.
● Check security when shopping online. When shopping online, verify security symbols and encryption before entering any credit or identification details. You also want to check the URL and make sure it’s legit – avoid using links from an unsolicited email.
● Shred sensitive documents. Old billing statements or any other documents that contain any personally identifying information.
● Do not easily give out your personal information (e.g. name, birthday, Social Security Number) just because someone asked for it. If possible, ask for the reason why these details are needed to be provided.
● Watch out for unauthorized transactions. Review your bank account by checking your bank account and credit card statements. When you notice bills or order confirmation for items you did not buy, this is a red flag for possible identity theft.
● If you have been a victim of identity theft. Report the incident to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at identitytheft.gov or contact their hotline at 1-877-438-4338.