5 Ways to Safeguard Your Identity and Your Credit Score

Identity theft is a serious crime that affects up to 9 million people per year. While this may seem like a huge number, in reality it totals about 3 percent of the population of the United States. The nightmares that some people experience when they’ve fallen prey to identity thieves are real, but the truth is that full blown identity theft is more rare that fraud.

What’s the difference?

Identity theft occurs when a thief secures your social security number and opens banking and credit accounts in your name. They may even make large purchases like cars and then never pay the bills. They may change your address so that the late bill notifications never reach you.

Fraud is the process of obtaining your account numbers then using those accounts to make purchases online. Computer systems are generally responsible for the phishing that results in the loss of your credit card numbers, but these situations can usually be easy to detect.

So how do you go about protecting yourself, your identity, your money, and your credit scores? These are five ways that you can thwart attempts at identity theft, and ways to fix the problems once they’ve started.

1. Change Your Passwords

Since we make most of our purchases online now, we all have password protected accounts everywhere, including our banking institutions and our preferred shopping websites. One of the problems here is that not many people use secure passwords, and may even use the same password for multiple accounts.

Consider using password software that creates long and difficult passwords for each of your accounts, all of which can only be accessed by a master password that you create. If there is ever a breach of an account, the program will then change your password, again to something long and difficult to guess. It really does bring a great deal of peace of mind.

2. Avoid Risky Websites

The internet and the browsers we use to navigate it are safer now than they’ve ever been, but many websites still fall under the umbrella of unsafe, but it can be difficult to ascertain which ones they are.

Generally, if you are using a website to apply for any sort of credit card, bank account, or loan, be absolutely sure that it belongs to the company that you intend to work with. Some financial websites are little more than fronts for thieves, or their security is vulnerable. Websites that offer items like payday loans can be very lax in security, and you risk losing your information if you use their sites for a loan.

3. Read Your Mail

Some people may be inclined to simply glance at their mail and toss away anything they deem irrelevant. Aside from obvious junk mail and advertisements, open each envelope and read the contents.

You need to be reading every piece of mail sent from your financial institutions to be sure that they aren’t attempting to notify you of fraudulent activity. You can also request that your banks and credit card companies stop sending you mail and switch to online-only versions of your account, protected with secure passwords.

4. Shred Your Documents

While you might think that the days of people rooting through trash to find financial documents are over, that’s not quite true. You may not see someone at your curb, but that doesn’t mean that when your paper arrives at the recycling center that someone isn’t seeing it.

Ask your accountant which documents you should keep on file and for how long, but shred everything else. This includes all credit card offers that you don’t plan to use, and anything else that might result in fraud. In short, shred all documents and mail before you throw them away.

5. Use Only Secure Wi-Fi Connection

It’s likely that your home Wi-Fi connection is password protected, but what if you’re in public and need to either use a public computer or a random Wi-Fi connection for your phone? In some cases hackers can monitor these connections and grab data as it passes through, and some of that data could be yours.

Unless it’s an emergency don’t use a public computer for financial transactions. If you’re using your phone consider investing in a VPN (virtual private network) service. This allows you to log into the VPN and disguise the IP address that you’re using, potentially thwarting hacking attempts.

Protecting your identity is serious business, but with these tools in your arsenal you’ll be better equipped to protect your assets, and know more about what to do if your accounts have been compromised.


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