You toss old bills in the trash. You hand the store clerk your debit card. You quickly provide information during a phone call from your bank.
These everyday actions may seem fairly harmless. But they may all lead to identity theft. And that’s a crime that’s occurring more and more often.
In fact, ID theft tops the list of complaints received by the Federal Trade Commission. And for its victims, it may have distressing, serious consequences.
Their gain, your pain
The goal of identity thieves is to gather your personal information — and use it for their personal gain. For instance, they might:
- Open a bank account in your name — and then write bad checks
- Clone your debit card and drain your bank account
- Give your name to the police during an arrest
Their actions may be costly and might tarnish your credit. And all of this may happen before you even realize there’s a problem.
Identity thieves use different tactics to get what they’re after, including:
Dumpster diving. They go through your trash looking for bills or other papers containing personal information.
Skimming. Using a special device, they steal credit or debit card numbers when your card is processed.
Phishing. They pretend to be a bank or government agency — and ask for information through emails or pop-up messages. This may also happen by “phishy” phone calls.
Hacking. They hack into your email or online accounts to get to stored data.
Stealing. They snatch wallets, purses or mail — or take tax or personnel records from a home or business.
Fight back — starting today
Here are eight steps you might start taking now to help make ID security a priority — and a practice:
Today — lock it down:
1. Remove your Social Security card from your wallet. Store it — and all your personal information — in a secure place.
2. Change weak passwords. Do you use your birth date or part of your address or phone number? That might be an easy code for a thief to crack. The strongest passwords combine upper- and lowercase letters, numbers and special characters.
3. Make sure your home Wi-Fi network is password-protected. And be careful how you use your devices at public hot spots. Most aren’t secure — which means any information you send is only protected if you’re on an encrypted website. To be sure a website is encrypted, look for “https” in the address before you log in or send any personal info.
This week — proceed with care:
4. Start being more security-minded. For example, don’t click on links in unsolicited emails. And don’t give out information over the phone or online unless you’ve verified the source.
5. Keep your eye on debit and credit cards when paying for purchases. If anything seems out of the ordinary, be cautious using your card.
This month — destroy and defend:
6. Shred all paperwork with personal information before you throw it away. Get in the habit of doing this routinely with mail and sensitive material.
7. Review bills and bank statements carefully for unusual transactions.
8. Be sure to review your credit report regularly. This may help you recognize if your identity has been stolen. You can do this yourself for free — or pay an identity theft protection company to monitor it for you. See “Signs of ID theft.”
And keep your UnitedHealthcare insurance information private too. Don’t share your member ID, username or password with anyone. And regularly review your claims and health statements to make sure they are accurate as well.
For more tips — including how to get your credit report — visit www.ftc.gov/idtheft.
Reprinted with permission from Healthy Mind Healthy Body® March 2014 e-newsletter