Do you know how many times you’ve given out your social security number? For something that’s supposed to be highly guarded, we use it more often than you might think. When you get a new job, go to the doctor, do your taxes, apply for a credit card; you are entering your social security number either electronically or on paper.
While these institutions are supposed vigorously protect this information, things don’t always go as they are supposed to. This is on top of the fact that e-crime has reached unprecedented levels in the last 20 years. The more technologically advanced we become, the more susceptible to cybercrime we make ourselves.
Identity Protect is a company that will help protect you from these breaches of your private and financial data. As helpful as that protection is, you still want to work towards protecting yourself as well.
Preventing Identity Theft
Nothing can guarantee you will never be the victim of identity theft, but there are steps you can take to better protect yourself.
Step Up Your Password Security
Passwords are tricky for people. They usually want to make it something that’s easy for them to remember. Unfortunately, if it’s easier for you to remember, it’s probably easier for someone else to guess. When it comes to a password, the more random and varied it is the better. I don’t mean random like ‘purple monkey dishwasher’ I mean random like ‘gR$Aig3#p^f7uFev^R.’ Understandably, that’s going to be difficult to memorize. If you write it down, be sure to put it somewhere secure. Identity Protect offers military-grade password protection.
Protect Your Social Security Number
Remember the whole giving out your social security number thing. Yeah… Stop doing that. Now yes, certain institutions will require you to give out your Social Security number. When you deal with the government or apply for credit, you probably won’t be able to get out of it.
It’s also important to note that while you are rarely if ever required to give out your SS#, the company may choose not to work with you if you withhold it. At that point, you’ll have to weigh your level of trust in the company with how much you really want or need the service.
Another pro-tip: Don’t keep your Social Security card on you if you don’t need it. Put it up somewhere safe. (You’re going to hear that a lot)
Be Careful with Your Emails
As helpful as spam filters and security settings can be, malicious emails can still get through. If an email looks suspicious it’s best that you just don’t open it. If for whatever reason you do open it, avoid following links.
Even if the email comes from what looks like a trusted source; identity thieves will use popular company names or subscription sites and tell you that you either have money waiting or there’s a problem with your account. When you open the email and click the link it will almost certainly take you somewhere malicious. The site might even be designed to look like the site the thief is mimicking.
Here’s a scenario: You get an email that claims to be from Netflix. The subject line says something like:
“TROUBLE WITH YOUR PAYMENT METHOD! FIX IMMEDIATELY TO RETAIN SERVICE!”
Um… don’t open that.
There are a couple reasons an email with a subject line like that should be left unopened.
- Overly stressed language: Fix immediately is a red flag, though not a deal-breaker by itself.
- ALL CAPS: Using all caps is a deal breaker. In fact, spammers know not to do this at this point. It’s only used in this example to make a point.
- Exclamation Points: Another red flag that the email is trying a bit too hard to get your attention.
If you were to open the email, dollars to donuts they would ask you for your username and password…so they could steal it. Since most people use the same (or similar) password(s) for most of their accounts, and they clearly know your email address, you’ve potentially opened yourself up to a massive data breach.
Instead of doing that, go directly to your Netflix page and sign in the way you would normally. If the problem is as serious as that subject line suggests, then you’ll be greeted with a message saying as much. Even if you don’t get a message, you can still check your account information to verify whether there’s a problem.
If you’re still concerned, put the subject line of the email into a search engine and see if any of the results mention a scam. If you haven’t already, report and delete the email.
Recovering from Identity Theft
If you are unfortunate enough to be the victim of identity theft it can be a disorienting and emotional time. You have to try to steel yourself. The faster you react the more you can mitigate and repair the damage. Here’re some steps you should take right away.
Stay on Top of Your Accounts
This is kinda like ‘step zero’ because you technically should be doing this before a breach, but it becomes especially important afterward. The sooner you find out about a problem the easier it will be to fix it. If you go extended periods without checking all of your accounts (and your credit score) it could be a while before you even realize there’s a problem. At that point, there might be less you can do about it.
Contact the Affected Institutions
As soon as you discover there’s a problem, you need to notify everyone involved. If you find a charge you don’t recognize on your bank statement tell the bank and contact the place where the money was spent. This is both to make everyone aware of the problem and to quickly stop any unauthorized payments. Debit payments are often in a state of pending before they are finalized. If you catch them at this stage they are easier to reverse. Moreover, you have two days after discovering the issue to get $50 maximum liability on the fraudulent purchases. After that, you’re looking at $500.
Contact One of the Credit Reporting Agencies
By contacting any one of the three credit reporting bureaus and putting a fraud alert on your credit report it will keep any fraudulent purchases from affecting your credit scores for 90 days. You don’t want someone else messing up your good credit.
Contact the Police
The thing about information is that once someone has it, they have it. Contacting the police is less about catching the person who stole your identity (as that is extremely difficult and rarely happens). It’s about creating a paper trail and documenting the fact that you were a victim.
When you file a police report you are swearing under penalty of perjury that your identity has been stolen. If after an investigation the police discover you just had buyer’s remorse about that jet ski you bought, there will be serious consequences. Taking such a drastic step makes creditors and banks feel better about stopping or reimbursing payments.
You may be able to bypass this step by going to the FTC as their Identity Theft Affidavit is more comprehensive than a police report and serves largely the same purpose. While doing both is advised, going to the police is only favored when you think you may know who the thief is. (Familiar Identity Theft happens more than you might think)
Re-Secure Your Identity
Identity Protect can really come in handy here. In a lot of ways, this will feel like starting from scratch. Because it’s so difficult to pinpoint the source of a breach, you’ll need to change all of your passwords and sensitive information. You may even need to get a new driver’s license or social security number. Check in with utility and telephone carriers to make sure they know any new accounts in your name are fraudulent.
Identity theft is a tremendously compromising crime. All you can do is take steps to keep it from happening to you and rebuild if it does.