(ARA) – Identity thieves are a creative, crafty lot and it’s easy to see why they do what they do – thousands of American consumers and corporations lose millions of dollars to identity theft every year. Even if you have only a basic understanding of how identity theft happens, thwarting identity thieves on your own can be an intimidating prospect.
Fortunately, there are many ways you can protect yourself from identity thieves. Don’t be passive about protecting yourself from the ever-growing threat from identity theft criminals.
Here are 10 simple things you can do to reduce your risk of identity theft:
1. Make your wallet your first line of defense. Lost and stolen wallets are still one of the top ways identity thieves obtain personal information. Limit what you carry in your wallet. Bring only the credit cards and identification you absolutely need. Never carry your Social Security card in your wallet.
2. When in doubt, shred. Old bills, bank statements, old insurance policies, explanation of benefits forms – the list of papers that can contain identifying information goes on and on. Identity thieves can work with nothing more than your name and address, so the safest move is to shred anything that contains identifying information.
3. Send securely. While the U.S. Postal Service has its own security measures in place to help protect you, it pays to take your own precautions. If you must receive mail at home, use a locking mailbox. Never leave outgoing mail in your box with the red flag raised for pickup – that’s a flag to thieves that mail is sitting unprotected in the box.
4. Be ATM savvy. Always cover the keypad when you type in your PIN – thieves have been known to install small cameras focused on the keypad, or even snap pictures with cellphones to capture your information. Whenever possible, use only ATMs inside a bank lobby or a store where it would be hard for thieves to tamper with the machine.
5. Play it safe when it comes to important documents. Lock up your passport, Social Security card, financial and personal documents in a fireproof box or safe at home, or store them in a safe-deposit box at the bank.
6. Beware online scams. Email solicitations should always be suspect, especially if they seem too good to be true – they probably are. Phishing scams aim to fool you into believing you’ve been contacted by a trusted source with the sole purpose of getting more personal, identifying information out of you.
7. Protect yourself with technology. Your PC and laptop need to be equipped with current malware and antivirus software. Keep them up to date and run regular scans of your computer to make sure you haven’t picked up any malware that could give thieves access to your information.
8. Enroll in a protection product, like ProtectMyID to do the things you can’t do for yourself, such as scanning the Internet daily for your information and alerting you to more than 50 indicators of fraud that may be a sign your identity has been compromised. In today’s digital world, your credit status can change on a dime, and spotting unauthorized activity on your accounts quickly can be a key to halting identity theft.
9. Be smart about your smartphone. Today’s smartphones collect and store a great deal of data about you and your habits. This is information that could be valuable to enterprising identity thieves. Don’t help them out – never post your whereabouts on social networking sites or allow your friends to track you through sites like Google Latitude. Opt out of location-based advertising and turn off location sharing capabilities on social networking sites.
10. Trust your instincts. If an email looks like a scam, a website makes you feel suspicious, or you think the person behind you in line at the ATM is standing a little too close for comfort, err on the side of caution. Ultimately, being vigilant is your best protection against all forms of identity theft.