In light of the recent announcement about the data breach at Experian, one of the major credit reporting companies, it seems most appropriate this week to share some simple ways that I am proactively protecting myself against identity theft.
While the exact current situation is new, the threat of identity theft definitely isn’t new at all. With everything stored digitally, you simply aren’t able to control and protect all of your personal information from any sort of breach. However, there are a few things that you can do to guard yourself and minimize the impact if your identity is stolen.
1. I Don’t Share Personal Information Online
I am not one of those people that share all of the details of their life on Facebook and Instagram. While I enjoy being able to see pictures of friends and family and special events, but let’s face it. Many people share way too much. I’ve seen people even post their address and phone numbers publicly. Just don’t do it.
2. I Check My Accounts Often
I most commonly see advice that you should check through your credit card statements when you receive them to make sure there aren’t any fraudulent purchases. However, this could mean that someone could potentially get away with get away with a significant amount before anyone notices for an entire month. I’m vigilant about thoroughly tracking my expenses on a weekly and sometimes more frequent basis, so I’m confident that I would be able to catch anything within just a few days.
3. I Use Credit (Not Debit) Cards
I love the convenience of using credit cards and use them for nearly all of my purchases. If someone fraudulently steals your debit card number and personal information, they can potentially wipe out your bank accounts. You may be without any funds until your case is processed by the bank. In the case of a credit card, there would be much less disruption to your personal finances. In the long run, you’ll be reimbursed either way according to federal laws, but the short term could be extremely stressful.
4. I Set Up Fraud Alerts
Since Experian’s announcement, I set up a fraud alert with the credit reporting agencies to require that for lenders to issue any form of new credit, I first need to be personally contacted via phone. I didn’t find it necessary to take the step further to initiate a credit freeze, but it’s another option for anyone that feels like taking that extra step.
5. I Use Credit Journey to Notify Me of Activity
Chase offers a fairly new service called Credit Journey that will notify you of any changes to your credit. I’ve found that it’s very timely with notifying me about changes to my credit report due to credit cards added, but quite slow when I have been listed as an authorized user on another account. However, it’s definitely one free service that is a must-have in my book. I’ve used this service since its inception and it has some other great features as well!
6. My Passwords Are Strong and I Update Them
I’ve mentioned before that I use a password keeper to keep my passwords secure. Because of the convenience of tracking my passwords, I’m able to set up much stronger passwords, make each one unique and update them much more frequently than I would otherwise. Creating strong passwords is one of the absolute most essential things that you can do to protect yourself online. Don’t forget the importance of setting passwords on your mobile devices either!
7. I Keep My Documents Secure
My shredder gets a lot of use at my house. I always tend to err on the side of caution when it comes to destroying any type of document that could possibly have personal information about me. This especially includes the credit card offers that come in the mail. Because much of my financial documents are stored digitally, I’m also extremely careful about keeping my hard drive in a safe spot and not taking the one with my personal finance data with me when I’m on the go.
8. I Check My Credit Reports Often
I’m not perfect at checking each one of my credit card reports at exact times during the year, but I do check each agency at least once during some point during the year. I have found errors and delinquent accounts in my credit report in the past (including a $15 delinquent bill that dropped my credit score by over 100 points). Fortunately, I’ve never found any evidence of identity theft, but it’s definitely a good idea to check your credit reports frequently.
9. I Set up Banking Alerts
I’m not a fan of alerts, especially on my phone (I even have disabled the alert for new emails). However, when it comes to banking, I go all out with the alerts. I have alerts set up for when my bank account drops below a certain balance and when a withdrawal is made over a certain amount. These alerts are delivered as text messages so that I see them as quickly as possible.
10. I Protect Access to My Networks
Adequate virus protection software is not optional these days. This includes not only malware protection but also firewalls, filters, and secure wireless internet access. The internet provides so much convenience, but also so much opportunity for those looking to take advantage of others that don’t put these procedures in place. Don’t be that person!
With the right procedures in place, you don’t need to fear a potential identity theft attack. The recent events have shown that it’s not possible to personally protect all of your own information. However, there are many things you can do to help keep yourself safe and minimize the potential impact.