Swiping your credit card and paying bills online are everyday occurrences. However, providing your personal and financial information digitally certainly comes with risk. The Federal Trade Commission received 4.8 million reports of identity theft in 2020 alone, and everyone is susceptible.
The threat of identity theft isn’t going away any time soon, so you need to take steps to protect yourself. This tech (and non-tech) safeguards will help keep your personal and financial information out of the wrong hands.
1. Opt for a Chip Card
Traditional credit and debit cards include a magnetic stripe that contains information about your bank account. The static data found in the magnetic stripe is simple to copy using a data skimmer, making such cards an easy fraud target. Most of today’s credit and debit cards are available with a chip, so choose this more secure option whenever possible.
The constantly changing data on chip cards is more difficult to copy, and such cards employ sophisticated encryption. This encryption prevents fraudsters from accessing and using your personal information. So even if your card has a magnetic stripe as well, use the chip reader rather than swiping your card whenever possible.
2. Check Your Financial Statements
If a criminal accesses your credit card information or other financial data, there will likely be signs on your financial statements. Be sure to check your transaction history frequently to spot these clues. Look for any unfamiliar or suspicious transactions. File a dispute with your financial institution if anything seems amiss.
It’s also wise to set up transaction alerts on your credit cards and bank accounts. This way, you can keep tabs on your account activity at all times.
3. Be Wary of Public Wi-Fi
Public Wi-Fi networks are convenient when traveling or getting work done on the go. However, these networks aren’t always secure — even if they require passwords. A virtual private network is a much more secure way of getting online, so consider one if you connect to public networks often.
Some other steps to protect yourself include setting strong passwords on devices and avoiding networks that aren’t password-protected. You should also keep your anti-malware and anti-virus software up to date. Keep your file-sharing settings turned off, and only engage with your financial accounts when using your secure home network.
4. Strengthen Your Passwords
It’s entirely too common for people to use the same password for all their online accounts. That means once an online criminal guesses one password, they’ll have access to all your personal and financial information.
Consider using a password manager to create and store unique login credentials. Change your passwords often, and avoid storing credentials in an easy-to-access location (like your phone’s notes app).
5. Protect Your Tech
Your personal devices are gold mines for perpetrators of identity theft. If you misplace your smartphone or laptop, a criminal could access your email, personal documents, and online accounts. This is why it’s essential to have trustworthy passwords on all your technology.
Always lock your device when you’re not using it, even if you leave it with someone you trust. You should be the only person who can open your smartphone, tablet, or laptop.
6. Set Up MFA
When it comes to online security, multi-factor authentication (MFA) is another must-have tool. MFA requires two pieces of information when a user logs into a system. A common example is a password and code that you receive as a text message. PIN numbers, security questions, authenticator codes, software tokens, and biometrics like fingerprints are also used as MFA credentials.
When an account gives you the option to set up MFA, do it. MFA puts another barrier between a thief and your private information. The extra login step is well worth the extra security.
7. Mind Your Email
Scams like phishing and spoofing are common, and often effective, tactics for identity theft. Online criminals will send seemingly legitimate emails that ask for your Social Security number, bank account information, or other personal data. Fall for one of these emails, and you might become a victim of online fraud.
Fortunately, there are ways to protect yourself from email scams. Built-in spam folders will filter out some dangerous emails, but you’ll want to keep your eyes peeled. Be suspicious of any email from an unknown sender, especially if it asks for any personal information. Avoid opening attachments from unfamiliar senders. And when in doubt, delete the email before opening it.
8. Use Caution on Social Media
Social media offers an opportunity to connect with others and express yourself. But you may be overlooking some common security pitfalls. Oversharing on social media could make you vulnerable to identity theft. Disclosing data like your birthday and answers to common security questions (e.g., your pet’s name) gives fraudsters tools for identity theft.
Tighten your online privacy settings to safeguard this information. It’s also worth using caution when posting in general. While you trust your friends and family, you never know who might be lurking within your online connections.
9. Learn About Common Scams
Knowledge is power when protecting your identity. You can safeguard yourself by keeping tabs on the most common scams. Certain phone scams, like calls that ostensibly come from the IRS, often make headlines. Talk to your elderly loved ones about these trending scams, as fraudsters often target seniors.
Remember, you can always report suspected fraud to the FTC. Doing so will help protect others from identity theft.
10. Practice Offline Safety
While identity theft often occurs online, there are plenty of ways that criminals can access your information offline. Personal documents and discarded mail may contain your personal or financial information, so be sure to shred documents you don’t need.
You should also avoid displaying sensitive information when others could be looking over your shoulder. Someone jotting down your bank account or Social Security number could lead to identity theft. For the same reason, avoid sharing private data over the phone when others are within earshot.
As techniques for identity theft become more advanced, so should your security measures. Now is the time to take prevention seriously. Add several layers of protection to all your online accounts, and only share personal information with trusted parties. When your identity and privacy are at stake, an abundance of caution is always worth it.