In this day and age, you have to guard against people who want to steal your financial information. Thieves want your credit card numbers, bank account information, and even your retirement accounts. Heck, thieves are even filing tax returns under other people’s Social Security numbers to claim the refunds. Even if the thieves don’t steal your identity and run around opening accounts in your name, someone with the right information can still clean you out.
While you may be able to eventually recover your money (after a lot of hassle), the better solution is to protect yourself. Do everything you can to keep your personal and financial information secure. You may still be the victim of a crafty thief, but your odds are lower. Most of the protective steps listed below cost very little or no money and don’t even take that much time. Here are some steps to protect your information.
Paperless statements can’t be stolen from your mailbox by thieves or mis-delivered to someone who will use your information to steal from you. Paying your bills online means that your checks aren’t floating through the mail. If you won’t do this, consider investing in a lockable mailbox.
Shred, Shred, Shred
Shred everything with personally identifying information once you are done with it. Bills, statements, and other records are all things that thieves are willing to search through your trash to get. Shred everything to keep them from getting it.
Stamp It Out
There may be documents that you don’t necessarily want to shred, but have sensitive identity material on them. it’s good to get into the habit of marking this information out with a black marker or purchasing a identity theft protection stamp which will block out personal information on documents. This will help prevent social security numbers, addresses, and other personal information unreadable if someone happens to get hold of these papers.
Keep Your Eyes Open
Watch contractors and other service providers. If anyone comes into your home to clean or repair something, keep an eye on them. Most are honest people but some will try to steal blank checks, statements, credit cards, or other financial material. Don’t leave these items out in view and keep an eye on anyone in your home.
Don’t leave your passwords and PIN’s in easily accessible places. Don’t reveal them to anyone. Keep them secret.
Make Passwords Hard to Crack
Choose passwords with combinations of numbers, letters, and characters. Don’t choose names, dates, or common words that are easy for thieves to guess or crack.
Don’t Reveal Sensitive Information in Public
Don’t give your account numbers or SSN to anyone where others can overhear. This means not conducting your business on a cell phone in a crowded restaurant. Close the door if you’re going to have a sensitive conversation with your banker. Remember that you never know who is listening.
Protect Your Social Security Number
Don’t give your Social Security Number unless you have no choice. Many places default to the SSN as an identifying number. If you don’t think it’s necessary, ask if you can provide some other information or skip it altogether. The fewer places that have that magic number, the lower your risks of misuse are.
Only Use Secure Wireless Connections
Don’t use public wireless connections to conduct financial business. They are probably not secure and a decent hacker can intercept your information.
Secure your computer
- Use the proper anti-virus and malware software to keep your computer form becoming infected with keystroke loggers or other programs that will steal your information.
- Don’t download anything from an unknown source as it may contain a malicious program.
- If you have a laptop, require a password to open it upon startup. If it’s stolen, someone will have a harder time getting to your information.
- Make sure you use a firewall to prevent unauthorized access. Consider a hardware firewall in addition to a software firewall.
Check Your Credit Reports
You’re entitled to one free credit report each year from each of the three credit bureaus. Check your reports so you can see any unauthorized activity and cut it off before it becomes a huge problem.
Don’t Respond to Emails
If your credit card company or bank emails you asking for sensitive information, do not respond. Call the number listed on your card or statement (not the number in the email because it may be fraudulent) and speak to someone. Banks will not ask for sensitive information via email.
Check Your Statements
Check over all statements for unauthorized transactions. If you find anything suspicious, contact your provider immediately.
Keep Documents Secure
Even in your own home you need to keep your documents secure. Keep a safe or at least a lock box where you can store documents such as passports, Social Security cards, unused credit cards, blank checks, etc. If someone breaks into your home, at least your financial information will be secure. If you don’t want to store documents in your house, get a safe deposit box at the bank.
Be Careful Whom You Trust
Always thoroughly research any potential financial provider, lawyer, insurance agent, broker, or anyone else who will be privy to your personal information. Make sure they are legitimate and ask how they will protect your information. Also don’t allow a new friend or boyfriend/girlfriend to have unfettered access to your wallet or home. They might be nice people, but they might also take advantage of you. Wait until you know them better. Scammers come in all forms, so keep your guard up.
Don’t Let Your Credit Cards out of Your Sight
It’s convenient to pay with a credit card at a restaurant where the server takes it away and brings back your receipt, but it’s risky. While most are honest, some servers will either skim your credit card or they’ll simply write down the number and go on a little shopping spree. Keep your cards in sight at all times.
Disconnect from the Internet
If you’re not going to be using your computer for a while (or just not using the Internet) disconnect it from the Internet. Turn off your router, turn off your wireless connection, or remove the Internet cable from the computer. Even if you’re not using it, a computer that’s connected to a live wireless connection can still be hacked.
You can opt out of pre-screened credit card offers and junk mail, reducing the number of agencies that get your information and the amount of information that’s flowing through your mailbox. (Visit https://www.optoutprescreen.com to opt out of credit and insurance offers an dhttps://www.dmachoice.org to opt out of junk mail.) Also read all privacy policies that your providers send you (they’re tedious, I know) and opt out from any and all information sharing.
Only Use Secure Websites
Look for “https:” in the address line to indicate security, or the lock icon in your browser. Thieves will sometimes create lookalike websites that are not secure to capture your information. Verify security before entering personal information.
The sad truth is that companies and businesses are not always as proactive as they should be about protecting your information. There are also plenty of dishonest people in the world. Therefore, the burden is on you to do all that you can to protect your financial information.
(photo courtesy of B Rosen)