Tips to protect your identity from criminals.

By: Amanda Anderson

With the advancement of technology and the growth of the internet, it is extremely easy for criminals to steal your identity. Nine million Americans will have their identities stolen this year, and it’s easier now more than ever to become a victim to the horrendous crime. It is ultimately up to you to protect your information as much as possible. Knowledge alone is essential to developing an effective plan to keep your personal information out of the hands of sophisticated criminals. While criminals will continue to find new ways to steal information, here are a few tips to keep you from becoming a victim of identity theft.

1. Manage all important documents.

Sometimes criminals only need documents that seem harmless such as ATM receipts and credit card statements. While you may think these documents make a strong effort to protect your information, these documents are all criminals need to steal your information. Be sure to shred all bank receipts, statements, and anything else that contains highly sensitive information. Use a shredder to properly destroy all of these forms of personal information.

Important documents like your passport, birth certificate, and social security card are the most sought out forms of identification by criminals. Safely store these items in a locked box and keep it out of sight. Do not carry these items in your wallet unless you absolutely need to.

2. Know who you are talking to.

Many criminals present themselves as creditors to gain a victim’s personal information. These telephone scams are becoming increasingly popular, and this is one of the easiest methods to steal identities. Before you give out any sensitive information, know exactly who you are talking to. Take a couple of days to research the company that is contacting you, and request official documentation on your account. Caller IDs are also effective in making sure you are talking to legitimate personnel from banks, charities, credit card companies, and collection agencies.

3. Don’t fall for phishing emails.

I have not met a person yet who has not received a phony email that was sent to steal your personal information. These particular emails may be disguised as legitimate messages from your bank, Paypal, or your credit card provider. They might request that you update your account information by clicking an unfamiliar link, and these links will lead you to phony websites that were created to steal your information. Never respond to any of these emails, instead delete them, and report them immediately. Know that if any of these companies needed up-to-date information or if it was an emergency, they are more likely to contact you by phone than send an email. Also be weary of chat platforms as well. Never click on any unfamiliar links.

4. Don’t shop at just any online store.

It may be extremely convenient to shop online, but it is also extremely dangerous. Make sure that the site you are shopping on is secure by locating a locked graphic on the bottom of the website. Also check to make sure “https” is located in the address bar. These factors indicate that you are shopping on a secure website.

5. Get a credit report often.

Credit reports not only show your financial debts, but they also indicate if your information has been stolen. Get a report a few times a year to see if you spot any suspicious activity. If you see any new mysterious accounts that you didn’t authorize, report these to the bureaus immediately. Also be sure to go to http://www.annualcreditreport.com to get your free annual credit report authorized by US law.

6. Always keep your anti-virus and anti-spyware software current.

Anti-virus programs prevent a lot of cases of identity theft. But these programs are only effective if they are kept up-to-date. Keep your software current to maximize effectiveness.

7. Don’t be too friendly with your social security number.

A lot of legitimate companies will request your social security number to identify your account. In most cases, you can use another form of identification. Ask any institution that requests your social if it is absolutely needed. Never give away your social security number unless you absolutely must.

8. Watch your mail.

Even in the day and age of advanced technology, some criminals still steal information by tampering with a victim’s mail. Always check your mail to make sure your mail has not been opened, and report any issues as soon as possible.

If you have to go out of town for a few days or months, be sure to have a loved one or close friend to collect your mail while you are away. When sending off sensitive mail, be sure to drop it off at a secure place such as the post office.

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