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Every year, approximately 15,000,000 people in America have their identities stolen, leading to billions of dollars in losses and countless hours and frustration trying to recoup those losses, and restore destroyed credit. It’s a crime that can take years for the victim to correct, and can ruin chances of obtaining credit cards, mortgages, car and student loans, and more. That’s why it’s so important to safeguard your personal and credit information. Keep reading to find out some simple steps you can take to keep your identity and your hard-earned money safe.
- Check Your Credit Reports Annually. Reviewing your credit reports on file with the three major credit bureaus—Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax—is one of the best things you can do to protect yourself. You can check your reports once a year for free and there is no hit to your credit for doing so. Monitor your reports and notify the bureaus of any suspicious activity immediately.
- Make Use of Antivirus Software. Antivirus software can prevent hackers from penetrating your computer, installing malware, and stealing passwords. Once you’ve installed a good program on your computer, make sure you keep it updated. Outdated antivirus software becomes less and less effective as crafty hackers find ways around it. Often, you can set your software to update automatically.
- Change Your Passwords. Hackers become more sophisticated each year, and having any sort of presence online makes you susceptible to being infiltrated. That’s why it is crucial to change the passwords on your online accounts periodically, especially your email account and any accounts that have any of your financial or personal information linked to them. In general, you should be changing your passwords every 3 months or so, and ensuring that they use a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols that are unusual and hard to guess. Authorizing 2-factor authentication when possible is also a smart idea.
- Shred Sensitive Documents. With all the ways ID thieves have to gain access to your info digitally, it may come as a surprise to learn that one of the most common ways they steal is by picking through garbage for personal information. Before you toss documents like bank statements, credit card statements, and other bills, be sure to thoroughly shred them. Also, shred all junk mail containing credit card and loan offers. Thieves can use these blank documents to set up accounts in your good name.
- Keep Your Social Security Number Safe. With access to your social security number, thieves and fraudsters can easily gain access to all your financial records and credit reports, and set up fraudulent accounts in your name. Never carry your social security card on you; instead, store it in a secure place in your home. Be careful with whom you share your number; if a business, or individual requests it, ask how your number will be used, and what sort of protections are in place.
These are just a few simple steps you can take to keep your identity and your money safe. ID thieves and fraudsters will always be among us, but by being vigilant you can drastically cut down on your risk of being targeted.
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