10 Ways to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft

Identity theft is a serious crime that can wreak havoc on your entire life. Having your identity stolen can ruin your finances and your credit score. The process of recovering from a breach, even if you catch it quickly, can be incredibly time-consuming and costly. It's far better to prevent a breach from ever occurring. Fortunately, there are many ways to keep your information, and your identity, private. Here are 10 easy ways to safeguard your identity:

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  1. Secure your mail. Empty your mailbox every day if you can. Stealing your mail is one of the easiest ways a criminal can access your personal information. Consider using a locked mailbox or a P.O. box if you're unable to clear out your mail every day. If you leave town, set up a hold at the post office until you return. And never send outgoing bill payments or checks from your home; mail these from the post office instead.
  2. Guard your Social Security number. This is the primary target for identity thieves as it can provide access to your bank accounts and credit reports. Don't carry your Social Security card in your wallet or purse. If your Social Security number is listed on your driver's license or any other cards that you carry, request to have those cards reissued without it. Don't write your number on checks, and don't give it in any circumstances unless absolutely necessary.
  3. Be aware of website security. Don't provide your personal information to any unsecured websites. Always look for "https" instead of "http" in the address bar to be sure the site is secure and will encrypt your information. Otherwise, hackers can easily access anything you enter.
  4. Be smart about social media. Be defensive about your personal information; don't include your birthday or address on any social media accounts. 
  5. Destroy private documents and financial statements. Don't throw away your bank statements, credit card receipts, or other documents that contain private information. Destroy them using a cross-cut shredder, which leaves no trace of the original document.  
  6. Never leave a paper trail. If you get receipts from the ATM, at the gas station, or after using a credit card at any establishment, make sure to take the receipts with you. Don't leave them behind!
  7. Check your credit report regularly. You can get a free credit report from the three national credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union. Take advantage of this service. You can request one report every four months to monitor for any suspicious activity. If you find something, alert your credit card company immediately.
  8. Use secure passwords. Don't include any words or numbers that might be easy to guess (for example, children's or pets' names, or important dates like birthdays, your anniversary, etc.). It's best to use random combinations of letters, numbers, and special characters. Regularly change the passwords on your bank and other financial accounts, and use a different password for each account.
  9. Frequently review your credit card statements. Be sure that you recognize all the charges to your account before paying the bill. Contact your credit card company if you see any charges you don't recall. If you're carrying unused credit accounts with your bank or any department stores, consider closing the accounts.
  10. Secure your phone. Make sure your phone is locked with a password that's not easy to guess. If you're not using Bluetooth, turn it off until you need it. Use caution when downloading apps and watch for any malware. 
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