It’s a $37 billion crime that affects 1 in 25 Americans. Consumers are more susceptible to identity theft and fraud than they realise, and the stakes are sky-high if you don’t secure your personal information and financial accounts.
Identity theft and fraud costs the average consumer $631 in out-of-pocket expenses as well as an average 33 hours spent to resolve the issue, reports Javelin Strategy & Research.
Before thieves sink your bank and credit accounts, take these steps to protect your identity that take just a few minutes to implement yet can ultimately save you significant time and financial loss.
1) Get free credit monitoring. Credit monitoring is one of the best safeguards against identity theft and fraud. Services alert you to changes in your credit report, such as suspicious activity or new accounts that could be red flags of identity fraud. The major credit bureaus and credit agencies offer credit monitoring services for up to $180 a year. For a free alternative, CreditKarma.com offers totally free credit monitoring that monitors your credit report daily and alerts you via email if there’s a change detected in your credit file. It’s a free and automated way to keep frequent tabs on your credit report, because the faster you detect identity fraud, the better your chances of resolving it as painlessly as possible.
2) Password-protect your smartphone. Your smartphone stores a rich cache of your information, especially if you use your phone for social networking, mobile banking apps or online commerce. Losing your smartphone may give an identity thief the keys to your personal data and financial accounts. Password-protect your phone with a complex, unique password and set your phone to auto-lock. Also, make sure mobile banking and financial apps have passwords that are not auto-saved on your phone.
3) Be wary of where you use electronic devices. If you use your tablet PC, laptop or mobile phone in a public area, data on your electronic device is susceptible to identity thieves. Turn off Bluetooth if you’re not using it, as thieves can pair their device to hack your personal information and steal files and electronic data. The same goes for Wi-Fi, which is another portal for thieves to steal your data. Connect to secured Wi-Fi networks with passwords and also opt for networks that use WPA2 security protocol for its Wi-Fi connection. Next time you are using a shared network or Wi-Fi at a café, airport or other public area, also make sure you aren’t doing any sensitive work—someone could be looking over your shoulder.
4) Consider a smart card. Smart cards are a new generation of credit cards that feature EMV chip technology with stronger protection against identity theft, such as adding a unique PIN number to make it more difficult for thieves to counterfeit and abuse your credit. The U.S. is still slowly adopting the new technology from the older, more vulnerable magnetic strip cards, but some financial institutions, like Wells Fargo, Chase, U.S. Bank, and some credit unions, are offering these smart card alternatives. If your bank doesn’t offer a smart card yet, use a credit card over a debit card for better fraud detection as well as zero liability fraud protection.
5) Guard your financial accounts. Make a habit of checking your credit and debit statements online at least once a week to monitor for suspicious activity that could signal identity fraud. You can also set spending or budget limits on your credit and debit cards to be alerted of any unusual spending. Also check out BillGuard.com, a free financial security service that scans your credit card activity and notifies you of any signs of fraud, hidden charges, billing errors, or potential scams that show up.
Identity theft protection is a necessity in this day and age as most consumers share personal information via social networks, do financial transactions through their phones, and frequently send and receive sensitive data online. Take just five minutes to set up and implement each of the tips, and be proactive about protecting your identity and your financial health in the new year.