Everybody knows that Identity Theft is a clear and present danger and one to which we are all exposed. Most people don’t find out that they are victims of identity theft until it’s too late, and the consequences are important. Because technology permeates almost every aspect of our lives, it also poses risks, and thieves know it. Identity theft is not also really common; it is also getting more and more sophisticated and difficult to spot. This is why it is so important to be informed.
Recognize Warning Signs
You suddenly get calls from collectors, asking you to repay a debt that you don’t remember having. There are unusual movements in your bank accounts, or your checks bounce. Unfamiliar bills arrive to your house, or your usual bills are missing. You lose service on utilities, such as your mobile phone. Someone filed a tax return in your name. If any of these happen to you, you need to understand what to do if your identity is stolen. The first steps are:
- Prevent your bank and freeze your credit.
- File a report with the Federal Trade Commission
- Place a fraud alert on your credit reports.
- Change all your passwords.
To prevent identity theft, you need to know how it happens. Here are some of the usual scenarios:
- Phishing: You get an email asking you to change your bank account password immediately. You click the link, and it takes you to a mirror site that steals all your data. This can also happen when opening attachments from unknown email addresses. To prevent it: banks rarely ask their customers to click on links to change their account details. Always call them first and ask them for an alternative method. Never open any attachments from unverified email accounts.
- Public WiFi: Unsafe internet connections make it easy for thieves to enter your computer and steal your data. How to prevent it: Limit your use of open-access WiFi, keep your passwords strong and change them at least once every quarter, and never check your bank accounts while using public WiFi.
- Mail theft: If you find out your mail goes missing, you are at risk, and you should immediately notify it to the authorities. How to prevent it: Secure your mailbox and make sure to never put any envelopes containing your personal information in the trash (as dumpster diving is a common way to steal mail).
- Data Breaches: Information contained in databases is stolen or leaked. You’ve probably heard about data breaches on the news, as they are fairly common. If your information has been compromised in any way, the database owner is required to inform you. How to prevent it: Be mindful of how and where you share personal information. Even when the site can be harmless and honest, you never know when thieves might attack them.
- Poor Data Protection: Your bank accounts, email accounts, and social media accounts all share the same password. Your password is a combination of your name and date of birth. If someone has access to one of those, they get access to all of them. How to prevent it: Change your passwords constantly, and use a different one for each account. Never store your password on your smartphone and, whenever possible, enable two-step verification in all your accounts.
- Lost social security card, credit card, or smartphone. Losing any of these items always means the risk of identity theft. How to prevent it: immediately after you are aware of the item lost, notify your bank or provider, and change all your passwords.
Protection against identity theft is an important responsibility and should never be taken lightly. There are hundreds of stories of people getting into very important problems as a result of identity theft, so everyone should be careful. Never share any personal information via social media, especially if you don’t really know the person asking for it. If you are a victim, immediate action is essential, as the damage will get greater by the hour. Be careful at restaurants and stores and never allow an employee to leave with your credit card (that’s why most of them have portable bank terminals).