Here at the ITRC call center, we handle 700-1,000 new identity theft victim cases each month. One of the most common questions we receive, from concerned consumers and victims alike, is what steps they can take to ensure they’re doing as much as they reasonably can do to mitigate their risk of identity theft. Many people are under the impression that protection = spending money.
Fortunately, in many cases spending additional money in order to lower your risk of identity theft is unnecessary. What follows are a few easy (and free) steps any consumer can take to lower their risk of becoming a victim. For additional advice, please don’t hesitate to contact the Identity Theft Resource Center toll-free at (888) 400-5530 or visit us online at www.idtheftcenter.org.
1) Password-protect your smartphone. Many people fail to realize that these days our phones are nothing more than miniature computers that contain a wealth of potentially sensitive personal information. These days losing a phone can be far more dangerous to identity security than losing a wallet. Make sure you make use of the built in security systems. You will thank yourself in the event your phone is lost or stolen. Use a PIN that isn’t 1234, 1111, 9999, 0000 or any other easily cracked pin code. Set it up to auto-lock and install a location-tracking app, which is already installed on many smartphones, but needs to be activated.
2) Never click on links in emails from strangers or even strange emails from people you do know. If a friend’s email account gets hacked, usually the first move the hackers make is to mass email everyone in their contact list with a bogus link. The link will likely install a Trojan, key logger, or other virus on your computer. If you’re not sure, call your friend or family member and ask. Another thing to keep in mind, the government sends its official correspondence via actual mail and not email. Any email that claims to be an official email from the government, isn’t. Don’t provide Social Security numbers or other sensitive info to unsolicited callers. When scanning the Web, access websites by typing the address yourself rather than relying on links found through search engines.
3) Access your free credit report once a year from each of the three major credit bureaus. Regularly monitoring your credit reports makes you more likely to discover fraudulent credit accounts opened in your name sooner, making them easier to clean up. The credit reporting agencies will also set up free 90 day fraud alerts on your social security number should you feel that your information may have been put at risk.
“If you found this information helpful, you may want to consider taking part in the Identity Theft Resource Center’s Anyone3 fundraising campaign. For more information or to donate please visit http://www.idtheftcenter.org/itrc-launches-anyone3-campaign.