How To Combat Identity Theft And Fraud

In the digital age, your identity is often little more than a piece of digital code. That's very convenient in many ways. It lets us shop, bank, invest, pay bills, and much more without ever leaving our homes. It also creates risks, including the very serious risk of identity theft. Criminals who gain access to your personal information can use it to impersonate you and run debt in your name, which you could be expected to repay. The longer they continue, the deeper the quicksand that traps you will be. 15.4 million Americans were victimized in 2016, a new record.[1] To avoid being part of the count, you need to learn to protect yourself.

Identity thieves can still cause you trouble by gaining physical possession of your credit cards, debit cards, social security card, cancelled checks, driver's license or any other personal information they can find. These days, though, most identity theft is cybercrime, perpetrated by individuals who can steal your credit card or bank account numbers remotely and use that data to wreak havoc in your life.

Anytime you reveal your personal information online or visit a virtual location that stores your data, you create a window of opportunity for shadowy villains who would like nothing better than to violate your privacy for ill-gotten gain. Before you know it, they could be maxing out your credit cards, emptying your bank account or taking out expensive loans in your name.

It's up to you to protect yourself, and awareness of the threat is the first step to self-defense.

20 Tips for Protecting Your Identity and Preserving Your Privacy
Identity thieves are sneaky opportunists who rely on your naivete to intrude in your life. If you take intelligent steps to protect yourself from their underhanded yet sophisticated tactics, you can keep the wolves at bay and save yourself from misery and ruin.

Credit card companies, retailers, and financial institutions are aware of the threat, and most have installed multiple security measures that make it harder for identity thieves to succeed. They've also gotten better at anticipating possible breaches, and they may be quick to alert you if something suspicious happens to one of your accounts.

These security measures are still far from foolproof, and that is why you must take the initiative to protect yourself from identity theft and fraud.

Here are 20 common sense precautions that can keep you out of harm's way when identity bandits are on the prowl.

Monitor your bank account and credit card statements carefully. Every time a new statement is issued online or through the mail, be sure to open it. Read it thoroughly and make sure you recognize every charge that appears.

Access your official credit reports three times each year. Each of the three credit report companies—Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian—is obligated by law to furnish you with a free, comprehensive annual report. Space them out so you can get a new one every four months, and if identity thieves are using your data, the chances are good you'll spot anomalies when you check these reports.

Don't take your credit or debit cards with you unless you plan to use them. We tend to get into the habit of carrying our cards with us wherever we go. This creates an unnecessary risk and should be avoided.

Get a shredder and use it. Receipts, cancelled checks, account statements or government correspondence that contains your personal information should be shredded before you throw it away. Most home shredders are cheap and well worth the investment.

Consider paying retailers with cash, especially large retailers that might be subject to attack. Target and Home Depot have experienced hacker attacks leading to the leakage of massive amounts of customer data.[2] Credit cards and debit cards may be convenient, but they aren't your only option when you're out shopping.

Get your cash the old-fashioned way. ATMs are everywhere these days, but you can still go inside the bank and withdraw cash directly from your accounts. Believe it or not, some people prefer to do it that way, even if it takes a little extra time.

Use ATMs in secure places. ATMs inside stores, malls, and banks, or in areas where pedestrian traffic is heavy, are safer than ATMs in remote locations even during the daytime, as thieves can easily tamper with ATMs that are in quiet locations. Nevertheless, it's safer to withdraw money only during daytime hours.

When using an ATM, shelter the touchpad with your hand and body. Scammers sometimes place hidden cameras inside ATM booths, which they can use to steal your codes.

Watch out for credit card skimmers. Skimmers are electronic theft devices which can be placed over the card entry ports on ATMs, and if you slide your card into them, your card data will be recorded for future misuse. If you can't see blinking lights around the card entry slot, it could mean someone has placed a skimmer over the top. If an ATM doesn't seem right, look for another one.