Nearly half of U.S. adults currently have credit card debt, according to a report If you’ve been a victim of identity theft, you’re not alone. According to the Federal Trade Commission, identity theft has been on the rise in recent years—and even more so during the COVID-19 crisis with more people working from home and turning to the internet for their shopping. With the holidays in full swing, it’s a good time to point the spotlight on the problem during National Identity Theft Awareness Month.
Here are some ways to help minimize the impact of fraudulent activity and the heavy costs associated with fighting it.
Guard your personal information. You may know this already, but it’s worth repeating—don’t carry your Social Security card in your wallet or write your Social Security number on your checks. Give it out only when absolutely necessary. Ask if there’s an alternative way for you to verify your identity. Don’t respond to unsolicited requests for personal information. And when you’re storing personal information, be sure to keep it in a safe place.
Be careful on social media. Don't post your date of birth, mother's maiden name, first pet's name, or other personal information on social media channels. Cyber thieves know these are the details most often used to verify your identity and could allow for electronic access to your accounts.
Leave no paper trail. Don’t make it easier on criminals by leaving behind ATM, credit card, or gas station receipts.
Keep an eye on your accounts. Pay attention to billing cycles. If bills or statements are late, contact the sender. Collect mail promptly so thieves don’t have a chance to access account information on mail left in your box. Sign up for online access to your accounts and check regularly. If your financial institution or credit card issuer offers free online or mobile alerts, sign up for those too.
Shred receipts and credit card offers as well as other unneeded paperwork containing personal information. Many financial institutions, including credit unions, offer free or low-cost shred days. Take advantage of those to safely discard of these items.
Be vigilant online. Install firewalls and virus detection software on your home computer and create complex passwords that fraudsters can’t easily guess. Change passwords often, especially if a company or organization has your information and has suffered a database breach.
Order your credit report once a year. Review it to make sure it doesn’t include accounts you have not authorized. Check it more frequently if you suspect someone has gained access to your account information.
Fraudsters keep coming up with new ways to get your personal information. But once you’re aware of their new tactics, you can take some basic precautions to protect your identity and your finances.
This December, help spread the word about National Identity Theft Awareness month and share this article on social media using the hashtag #IDTheftAwarenessMonth.