Identity theft can leave you with financial difficulties, mounds of paperwork and even fraudulent criminal charges. Clearing your name can take countless hours of work, so protect your data to reduce your chances of becoming a victim.
Leave your Social Security card at home.
Your Social Security card does not belong in your wallet, which could easily be lost or stolen. Memorize the number, so you'll have no reason to carry the card.
Keep your it at home, preferably in a secure, locked box. Lock up all personal documents and financial information.
Shred credit card offers.
Buy a shredder and make good use of it. It's good for destroying not only credit card offers, but also insurance statements, bank statements, medical bills, receipts and other financial documents, rather than just pitching them in the trash.
Additionally, opt out of prescreened credit offers by visiting optoutprescreen.com or calling 1-888-567-8688. This also stops prescreened insurance offers, and you can select whether to be removed from such mailings permanently or for just five years.
Create secure passwords.
"Password," your birthday and your first name are all lousy passwords that a hacker can easily guess. Strong passwords contain lowercase letters, capital letters and numbers. Some sites even allow you to include symbols in your password.
Change passwords frequently, and do not save a list of passwords on your computer. Also, disable the feature in which your browser stores usernames and passwords.
Look for website security symbols.
Only conduct transactions on secure websites that encrypt your data, which means that only the recipient can see the information you send. Secure websites begin with the URL "https" and will display a small lock icon in the browser. Avoid sites with missing or expired security certificates.
Don't follow links that are sent to you in emails. Rather, always start your financial transactions by going straight to the company's website.
Keep an eye on your credit report.
By paying attention to your credit report, you'll be aware of any changes, which may alert you to an identity theft situation. You are legally entitled to one free report each year from each of the three major credit reporting agencies. By staggering these requests throughout the year, you can monitor your credit score all year long.
When it comes to identity theft, prevention is key. There's no such thing as too careful with personal data.
Meghan Ross is a freelance writer covering all things home and living. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.
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