How to Protect your Identity

Identity theft is a rampant problem that affects thousands of people every day. The problem will continue to grow if people do not act to protect their personal information and safeguard it from thieves.

Following these practical steps will help minimize the risk of identity theft and reduce your potential liability.

1. Keep all documents that contain personal data securely stored

Personal documents should be stored securely when they are not being used. Never leave your driving license in the car unattended as this presents an opportunity for a thief to swipe it and steal your identity.

The same caution should be taken with your passport, bank statements, credit card statements and any bill payments. The more secure you are about storing personal documentation, the less likely it is to fall into the wrong hands and the less likely for your identity to be stolen.

Don’t forget to remove credit card receipts from shopping bags, as this can provide an identity thief with valuable information.

2. Know when your bills are due

If you keep track of when your bill payments are due, you will be able to inform the relevant companies if there is any significant delay. Always contact the company if you fail to receive your bill as it can indicate that someone has intercepted your mail.

3. Shred documents that hold any personal data

If you do not securely dispose of your personal documents you are presenting an easy opportunity to have your identity stolen. A small investment in a cross-cut paper shredder will help significantly. A standard paper shredder is insecure as it only shreds the paper in one direction. Any determined identity thief will take time to piece the document back together and obtain your personal data.

If you are meticulous you will eliminate one of the most common means for an identity thief to acquire your data. It will only take a few minutes to shred and that extra time can really help towards reducing your risk of identity theft.

4. When you receive a telephone call asking for personal information

If you receive a telephone call then you should never freely volunteer to give your personal information. First you must confirm the identity of the caller and the reason for their call as well as obtaining a contact number and address of the company they claim to represent. If they refuse to give this information then you should immediately terminate the call.

If you were not expecting the call and the person refused to give out any of their contact information, the chances are that it was an attempt to find out some personal information. If you get into the habit of confirming caller identity and being cautious on the telephone, you will vastly reduce the risk of having your identity stolen.

5. Make your computer secure

In order to protect your identity when using the computer, you should ensure that it is secure. This will involve altering the security setup for some programs and installing an adequate anti-virus and firewall.

There are numerous companies that specialize in personal firewall software and anti-virus programs. A combination of free and paid programs is advisable; as long as you regularly update and scan your computer you should experience few problems.

6. Online mailing lists

It is advisable to check the privacy policy associated with a website before submitting your email address. If there is no privacy policy available, then you do not know how your information is going to be used.

If you have signed up to such sites in the past and received email from unknown sources, your information could have been sold to a marketing company. The site you registered on may have sold your email to multiple companies or individuals, and this is where the risk of identity theft is prevalent.

7. Using passwords online

As more people carry out their daily banking and shopping via the internet, they can increase the potential risk of having their identity stolen by using insecure passwords. It is good to monitor your spending activity online, but only if you are responsible and have secure passwords.

In order to make a password more secure it should consist of a mixture of letters and numbers in both lower and uppercase. If permitted by the website, to increase the overall password strength other non-standard characters such as an underscore or dollar sign should be used.

The stronger a password, the harder it will be for anyone to successfully guess and the more protected your online account becomes. This simple process can protect your identity from the lowest scale of hacker and can present much more difficulties to the high-end hackers.

All reputable websites will have their own secure access, especially if it is a financial institution where security and protection of customer data is paramount.

8. Social networking sites

The trend of online social networking whereby people freely share personal information has increased the possibilities for identity theft. Most social networking sites like MySpace or Facebook do permit users to hide their personal details or limit it to only show to selected people.

There is no need to have every piece of personal information on display in your public profile, you are only inviting trouble and leaving yourself vulnerable to fraudsters aiming to steal your identity. Utilize the features available and limit who can view your full information, otherwise you run the risk of having it abused.

9. Replacing your computer

If you need to replace your computer or hard drive, you should ensure that all personal information is securely erased. This doesn’t just mean deleting it through the trash can option as information can be retrieved even after deletion. It will require a professional to remove all traces of personal data or a program designed specifically for this purpose.

10. Credit report

A credit report request can be made from any of the major credit reporting agencies. This can help to detect suspicious activity that could indicate an attempt to steal your identity.

Pricing for credit reports can vary between companies, although you are entitled to a free credit report each year. It is advisable to spread out any free credit report requests to increase the chances of catching suspicious activity.

Overall, the best way to prevent identity theft is to exercise caution every time someone requests personal information. The request may come through a letter, an email, a telephone call or on the street corner. Whatever method is used to gain information it should be on your terms, not the person seeking the information.

Even if you have followed all the steps above, an identity thief will continue trying to obtain information through all possible methods. They will continue to try and piece together your personal information jigsaw and exploit information if you have not implemented basic safeguards. The more steps you put in place to prevent identity theft, the lower the chance of becoming another victim.