19 people fall victim to identity theft every minute.
If there is a crime more frustrating than having to try and restore your identity, financial information and good name, I can’t think of one. Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in America, and costs the average victim about $500 and 30 hours to resolve each identity theft crime.
With statistics like that, how can you minimize your risk and prevent identity theft?
Here are five things you can do now to safeguard your personal information and your identity.
Monitor Your Mail
Check your home or office mailbox daily and remove all incoming mail promptly.
Instead of putting your outgoing mail in your mailbox where it may sit unmonitored all day, drop all outgoing mail into a secure postal mailbox or hand it directly to your mail carrier.
Pay attention to the billing cycles for utilities, credit cards and other recurring payments. Identity thieves may change your billing address to divert your mail, so a late bill or one that doesn’t arrive at all may be a red flag. Consider eliminating paper statements where possible. Not only do you reduce the opportunity for mail theft, but you’ll also be helping the environment.
Shred all mail and other documents containing personal information before disposing of it.
Don’t become a treasure trove for purse snatchers or pickpockets. Carry only what you need in your wallet or purse. Leave your social security card, extra credit cards and other unneeded cards at home. Keep an itemized list of your credit cards, medical ID cards, drivers’ license, and other similar items in a secure place. Include customer-service phone numbers so you’ll know who to call should any of your cards be stolen.
If your wallet is lost or stolen:
Call your credit card company immediately and have that particular card cancelled.
To avoid medical identity theft, call your insurance carriers and let them know your medical ID cards have been lost or stolen.
File a police report in the jurisdiction in which your property was stolen. This will help provide proof of immediate action to your credit card providers.
Call the three national credit-reporting organizations as well as the Social Security Administration and request a fraud alert be placed on your name and Social Security number. This way, any company that checks your credit will be alerted to contact you directly before approving any credit transactions. The numbers to call are:
Equifax: (888) 766-0008
Experian: (888) 397-3742
TransUnion: (800) 680-7289
Social Security Administration: (800) 772-1213
Give out your personal information on a “need to know” basis only. Be sure you are dealing with a legitimate business. A good rule of thumb is to never give out personal financial information by phone or on the internet to any person or entity if YOU did not initiate the transaction.
Leave your drivers’ license and social security numbers off your checks. If you are asked to use your social security number as an account number, request an alternate identifier.
Regularly update your virus protection software or use a firewall program. Before you dispose of an old computer, delete personal information by using a “wipe” utility program to “clean” all the information off your hard drive. Reformatting the drive will not be enough to remove your personal data. If you are recycling the computer, you can also physically destroy any drives before recycling. If you use removable drives (like a flash drive), you will also want to make sure they do not have sensitive information on them either.
Make sure your passwords are secure and complicated enough not to be easily hacked and change them regularly. Do not use the same password for multiple sites. If you aren’t sure whether or not your passwords are secure, download this list of the 25 most commonly stolen passwords to make sure yours isn’t on it.
If you carry a cell phone, tablet or laptop that has access to personal and financial information, give it a secure password as well. You may also want to consider adding a tracking program or app to help recover your phone or tablet if it is lost or stolen.
Review your credit history annually
It can take months or even years to find out that someone has applied for credit in your name, or to learn that they have stolen your identity in other ways. To stay up-to-date on your credit history, review your credit record at least once a year. You can request a free report from each of the three credit-reporting bureaus once a year at Annual Credit Report.com. Instead of requesting all three reports at once, consider requesting one report every four months to keep on top of your information.
In addition to avoiding the possibility that you could become a crime victim, you may also want to consider adding Identity Theft protection to your business or personal insurance policies. While this insurance cannot prevent identity theft, it can help minimize the damage it can cause. For more information on Identity Theft coverage, message us through our Contact form here or give Roper Insurance a call at 303-721-1145.