It’s no secret that identity theft is on the rise. From false unemployment claims to fake videoconference invites, Americans have been increasingly vulnerable to credit scams in recent years.
It’s important to be vigilant about protecting your identity and practice good credit hygiene. Here are five ways to keep yourself and your information safe.
Enable spending alerts
This is the easiest way to catch potentially fraudulent purchases. You can set a purchase minimum (such as $50) on your debit and credit cards, and any expense above that amount will be flagged. You’ll receive a text, quickly approve the purchase if it’s you or initiate a fraud alert if it seems suspicious.
Properly store and dispose of financial documents
Unless you go paperless, financial statements can pile up in your mailbox. Often these get lumped in with junk mail or opened and thrown in the trash or recycling bin. However, the safer way to discard these paper statements would be to shred unwanted documents and to store desired documents in a lockable device. This also applies to receipts!
If you manage your finances completely digitally, brainstorm long passphrases that are memorable for you, but wouldn’t be easy for someone else to guess (like “2016Corvette_LetsRide!” instead of “password12345”). Use a different password for each account you have, and don’t share it with anyone, store it in your phone or write it down.
Touchless methods like contactless credit cards and Apple Pay® are the most secure ways to pay in public. Each transaction includes a one-time encrypted code that prevents counterfeit fraud, protecting all your in-person purchases. Chip cards also have this feature but are less convenient to use and require you to expose your card for longer, potentially allowing others to catch a glimpse of your card number.
Each of these options is more secure than the traditional magnetic strip card. Remember: these protections don’t apply to online transactions.
Change your Personal Identification Number (PIN) frequently
Your PIN is like a guard for your credit card information. Changing your number every six months keeps thieves guessing and can help avoid a breach.
Identity criminals might use your birthday, Social Security number or anniversary (along with 1-2-3-4) to try and crack your PIN. Much like your banking passwords, create a number that’s memorable to you but wouldn’t be obvious to someone else, and don’t write it down.
Monitor your financial statements and credit report
Keeping a close eye on your digital financial statements (credit cards, bank, brokerage, etc.) can help you spot suspicious activity.
If your identity has been compromised, don’t panic. You should immediately:
Initiate a fraud alert with one of the credit reporting agencies and make your financial institution aware.
Change your online banking and shopping passwords.
Monitor your financial accounts and statements for fraudulent activity.
Freeze or lock your accounts to prevent potential negative impacts. You can also put a freeze on your credit report to stop further fraud.
Breached companies often offer free identity protection services, so consider taking advantage of those. New cards should arrive within a few days; in the meantime, change your online banking and shopping passwords! Be proactive and visit annualcreditreport.com to get one free credit report yearly.
Faith Bonds loves a good intersection — whether it pops up on the road or in her storytelling. Discovering new paths motivates her to share unique perspectives and dive deeper into topics she's passionate about like budgeting basics and the French language. When she’s not carving out catchy headlines, you can find her etching the ice with her figure skating blades.