Identity theft has been on the rise in recent years, and becoming a victim can leave you fighting to recover your good name. Recovering from identity theft can be both time consuming and expensive, so prevention is definitely the best approach. Part of preventing identity theft is understanding where those risks lie and how to avoid them. By knowing your risks you will be able to more effectively fight this growing scourge.
Don’t Be the Weakest Link
Your identity protection is only as strong as the weakest link in the chain. You may take great pains to protect your Social Security number, date of birth and other pieces of key information, but can you be sure that everyone who has access to that information is so careful? /From your healthcare providers to your employer to your bank, lots of people and entitles have access to your private information. A single breach of protocol – or a single infected computer – can lead to the loss of that data. It is important to remember that your identity could be at risk even if you do everything right, so it is important to monitor your credit history and be on the lookout for signs of identity theft.
While there is not a lot you can do to address the risks posed by others, there are a few proactive measures you can take to reduce the chances of becoming a victim. One of the best ways to reduce your risk is to give out your Social Security number only when absolutely necessary. If you are asked for your Social Security number ask if it is truly needed – you may be able to provide alternative forms of identification. Ask if you can provide only the last four digits of your Social Security number – that will greatly reduce the chances of identity theft should your information be lost or stolen.
The Real Threat – Online and Off
Despite what you may think, most identity theft starts offline. Many people go to great lengths to protect their computers with antivirus software, sophisticated firewall programs and more, only to turn around and throw their store receipts right in the trash. What those consumers need to know is that many identity thieves strike gold in a decidedly low tech way – dumpster diving. By simply going through the trash at homes and offices, identity thieves gain access to a wealth of information they can use to steal identities and create false documents.
This threat is easy and inexpensive to address. Simply purchasing a personal shredder can go a long way toward reducing the risk of identity theft. All bank statements, credit card receipts, medical records and other personal documents should be shredded before they are discarded. Simply shredding your personal documents will help deter all but the most determined identity thieves and dumpster divers.
Monitor Your Credit Report
Perhaps the best proactive way to protect yourself from identity theft is to monitor your credit report carefully. A recently enacted Federal law entitles every consumer to a copy of his or her credit report every year. This law applies to all three major credit reporting bureaus, so by requesting a copy of one credit report every four months, you can keep an eye out for the early warning signs of identity theft. If you see any suspicious activity, like accounts you do not recognize or missed payments you were not aware of, you may be a victim. By getting an early warning you will be in a better position to fight back and mitigate the damage.