Over the past two decades, many U.S. states have started their own authorities and departments that work to prevent identity theft.
Identity theft is more common than you think. As defined by the Federal Trade Commission, it comprises any personal data loss that takes place as a result of a scam, deception, or related crime. This includes the loss of usernames and passwords, credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, health IDs, and other banking information. It seems that fraud is the main reason why identity theft happens in the first place. According to the same FTC, U.S. citizens and major organizations have lost over $900 million to identity theft in 2017 alone.
Over the past two decades, many U.S. states have started their own authorities and departments that either work to prevent identity theft or to subsequently help victims recover their losses. This is the case of Wisconsin, California, Indiana, Massachusetts, Nevada, and Maryland. Financial losses due to identity theft have accumulated to such a degree that each state has recently instituted a set of laws for related crimes.
If you want to take matters into your own hands, we’ve compiled a list of 10 security tips to help you prevent your identity from being stolen.
1. Learn to identify spam and scam
The FTC reported that credit card scams were the most common type of identity theft in 2017. Some hackers have become quite adept at mimicking your bank’s official e-mail or website, and use this to request private data from you.
Double-check everything before giving away your credit card details. If something seems wrong, then there is a good chance you’re being scammed. Just to be safe, always call your local branch and ask for more information before you give away credit card information.
2. Use a good Virtual Private Network (VPN) service
Leaking data through either private or public networks is one of the most common ways that identity theft takes place. This can happen without you knowing it when you connect your laptop, tablet, or phone to a free WiFi in a public place.
To avoid exposing yourself to identity theft through such leaks or to man-in-the-middle attacks that often happen over public networks, use a VPN as a firewall. There are plenty of options to choose from. Just browse some evaluations and select which service best fits your needs.
3. Password manager(s) and stronger passwords
Never use common passwords such as “123456”, “password”, “football”, “qwerty”, or “admin”. Never employ any of your personal information or data in passwords or PIN numbers, in whatever form.
Use passwords that are at least 8 characters long, include upper and lower cases, symbols and numbers. If you’re finding it difficult to remember all of them, password management software can help out a great deal.
4. Multiple factor authentication
The next best thing to a stronger password is two- or three-factor authentication. Albeit not available everywhere, banks and social media commonly allow their customers to use a multiple factor authentication method.
It will take slightly longer to log in since you’ll be asked to provide a code that is sent to you on your mobile phone and/or a fingerprint, but it pretty much guarantees you won’t be hacked. At least not easily.
5. Be wary of shoulder surfing
People and/or cameras might peer over your shoulder at an ATM machine or while you use s public computer in a crowded place. Many have used similar techniques to collect credit card data and steal millions from clients and organizations alike.
Handle your card in such a way so as to not make your name immediately visible, cover the keyboard while inputting pins, and try to be aware of people sitting close to you when handling private data.
6. Shredding bills and statements
Dumpster diving for private data is more common than you think. Whether it is a receipt, credit card statements, a bill, or even promotional junk-mail with your name on it, you need to shred it if you don’t want anyone to easily come across your private information.
7. Use reputable websites for purchases
Always review the companies/organizations you want to work with before you make purchases from them. Amazon, eBay, WalMart or BestBuy are known, global merchants with a reputation for holding their end of the deal, but this is not necessarily the case with new brands or stores.
Reading privacy policies and testimonials is beneficial, whereas an electronic wallet such as PayPal will make it even easier to get your money back should something happen.
8. Check your credit report regularly
Sometimes, the only way to know whether someone’s been using your credit card for unauthorized purchases or suspicious payments is to check your credit report. Some countries, like the U.S., stipulate that you are lawfully entitled to several of these per year without any charge.
9. Personal information
10. Be careful with your digital data
As mentioned before, digital traces are the most common means of identity theft via leaks of your private data. If you dispose of or sell a device, laptop, or computer you used to own, first ensure that you have irrevocably erased everything on it using specialized wiping software.
Simply deleting data is not enough to safeguard against a professional hacker. More importantly, employers nowadays often check social media accounts in order to assess candidates before hiring them, so you might also want to “curate” your online digital trace once in a while.