With tax season here and the due date to get them filed looming, it got me thinking about identity theft and how much information is floating around at this time of year easily accessible by the less-than-honest among us. Here’s our story and the best ways to protect against identity theft.
The odds were against us when we got married. We were young. Only 18 and 22 when we got married. Carefree and a bit oblivious to all that the future would hold and whether we could manage everything that life was throwing at us.
Things will always happen. Even in the best of places. After 3 years of marriage we prepared for a move and job change that we hoped that would only help our future farther, bad things happened instead.
We got robbed. We were preparing for a move so all of those items you don’t want the movers to move and want to put in the car with you? Yeah, they were out. And when you get robbed, oftentimes there identity theft. These were the days, when password protection wasn’t the thing to do.
Fast forward again and our debit card was compromised as part of a data breach at my favorite retailer. The maximum amount is withdrawn from our account in the early waking hours.
And again you’re on vacation out of state and your card is used across the country for a seemingly small charge that you didn’t make. But the identity thieves are watching and waiting to see if there’s an available balance behind that card so they can use it to its full potential.
We’re not negligent with our cards or our card security and yet this has happened to us time and time again. Just last summer, we replaced our credit card twice within a 30 day period. The first time after using our credit card on a popular vacation rental site where we started seeing foreign transactions from an area that is not associated with the originating biller. Then after that new card was replaced, a local pharmacy was making exorbitant charges to our card while we were on the vacation we had booked with the previous card.
Had we not have been vigilant in looking at our card, thousands of fraudulent charges could have taken place. We thought we were being safe but knew there were more ways to protect against identity theft that maybe we weren’t using.
Even now, especially now, when we’re aware and on the lookout for this sort of thing with our credit card statements there’s something else to worry about. Identity thieves are running rampant. They know that sensitive documents with all of our financial information are going out and they want to manipulate numbers to ensure that THEY get the refund. If you owe money to the IRS, they manipulate the numbers to ensure they get the refund.
Don’t allow yourself to become a victim.
7 Best Ways to Protect Against Identity Theft
1. Protect your social security number. Do not carry your card with you on a regular basis. This is just asking for a bad situation to become worse by exposing your number. Instead of straight theft and having to cancel credit cards, you’re opening the door for fraudulent accounts and possibly worse. With an original social security card a lot of damage can take place. Lock up your card in a fireproof safe and only bring it out in the rare situations you need it.
2. Shred financial documents. If you’re like me and get several different credit card offers in the mail each week, you’re allowing yourself to become exposed to identity theft because it’s so tempting to tear the envelope in half and just toss it. Do you know how easy it is to reassemble a piece of paper that’s only been torn in half? I’m not disciplined enough to shred my documents as soon as they come in but I do file them in a shred bin and when the pile gets big enough, I use this shredder to get through a ton of documents in no time.
3. Use e-statements whenever possible. We have pretty inconsistent mail service so limiting the amount of personal information that is sent and received through the regular mail is very important. We’ve had a set of new debit cards go missing a county assessment never arrive. Had we not have expected all of this mail, we never would have been the wiser that it didn’t arrive. E-statements are not only more convenient, you also save yourself the extra step of shredding documents.
4. Increase password security. Using e-statements protects against identity thieves physically taking your information, but handling your finances online puts you at risk of phishing attempts and other hackers. Using a strong password made up of numbers, special characters and upper and lower case letters as a hard to guess phrase will keep your accounts more secure and protect your personal information. Changing your password periodically and storing it away from your computer is also important. Virus protection software for your computer will also keep your online presence more secure.
5. Monitor your financial statements. Don’t allow your finances to operate on cruise control. Stay in the know about your financial situation by monitoring your bank and credit card statements to ensure no questionable activity is taking place. This is one of the easiest ways to protect against identity theft.
6. Check credit reports. You can receive a copy from each of the three credit reporting agencies (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax) once a year from AnnualCreditReport.com. Instead of ordering all three copies at one time, spread out the credit reports so you can monitor what’s going on with your credit as soon as anything suspicious pops up. Contrary to popular belief, checking your own credit score will not harm your credit.
7. Use cash. Be more mindful of where you use your credit/debit card. If you get a bad vibe, something seems it might not be on the up and up or you have any doubts, just use cash. The bonus with using cash, according to Dave Ramsey you actually spend less using cash versus plastic!
What ways to protect against identity theft do you use? How do you ensure your financial information stays safe in a digital age?