Even if you’ve never had your credit card number stolen, you’ve probably heard the horror stories outlining massive devastation that can happen to families when someone falls victim to identity theft. Identity theft protection is increasingly important as hackers develop ever-more sophisticated methods for stealing personal information online.
With so many avenues for thieves to steal your identity—credit cards, discarded financial statements, social networks, hacking your online financial accounts and more—how do you even being to implement an identity theft protection plan? While there are no guarantees, there are some steps you can take to reduce the likelihood that you’ll be the next identity theft victim.
[Read also: 4 Scary Ways Your Personal Information Is Being Used]
1. Be Mindful of Phishing Attempts
Phishing attempts are extremely common. If you get an email from a financial vendor asking you to click a link and login to their system to change your password or for some other purpose, don’t do it. Always type the URL for your accounts directly into your browser’s address bar. Clicking on links sent via email could be directing you to a faux site, designed solely to trick you into revealing your login credentials.
2. Less is More When It Comes to Social Media
You may be all over the social networking craze, whether for business or pleasure. It’s tough to avoid social media today, especially if you use it for business purposes. But be mindful of how much information you reveal about yourself. Information that’s publicly available on your social profiles can be used to answer security questions or guess passwords to other websites.
3. Use Strong Passwords and Good Password Practices
Because information that can be easily discovered about you online can be used to guess your passwords, you should avoid using this type of information to generate passwords. Things like combinations of your children’s or pets’ names, your year of birth and other easily-guessed data should be avoided.
The more random your password, and the more complex it is (both uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters), the tougher it is to crack. You should also make a point to change your passwords frequently, at least every 30 days. Finally, avoid using the same password for multiple websites. A hacker who cracks a single password can suddenly have access to all your accounts if you don’t use unique passwords.
4. Secure Your Wireless Network and Use Public Wi-Fi with Caution
Wi-Fi is incredibly convenient for accessing the Internet on the go, but it also adds complexity to identity theft protection. Information you send across an unsecured network can be intercepted by hackers, so accessing your financial accounts and other sensitive information via public Wi-Fi is pretty much putting it out there for anyone to view. Sometimes working on a public network is unavoidable, but try to send your sensitive data from a secure connection when possible.
5. Use Anti-Virus Software and Maximize Browser Security Settings
Anti-virus and anti-spyware software will help prevent malicious programs from gaining access to your computer. These programs can not only harm the functionality of your device, but they may contain key-loggers which can track your keystrokes to obtain login credentials for sensitive data. Use your browser security settings to control factors such as cookies. Cookies track your online activity for various purposes, including advertising. Some, however, may be malicious and can serve as a vehicle for identity theft. Limiting cookie permissions and using in-private or anonymous browsing adds a layer of identity theft protection.
6. Carefully Check All Financial Statements
Whether you get bank statements, credit card statements or investment earnings statements, you should evaluate each carefully to detect any unusual activity or changes. If your credit card number is stolen, for instance, catching it early will let you stop thieves in their tracks before they rack up tens of thousands of dollars in charges.
You should also order and check your credit reports regularly. That’s because identity thieves could open new accounts using your name and identity. If you’re not getting these statements in the mail, the only way to detect it is by noticing a strange account on your credit report or a sudden change in your credit score.
Identity theft protection is a multi-faceted process, but it’s not overly complex. Following some simple, yet sound Internet practices, using good password habits and keeping a careful eye on your financial statements will help you maintain control over your identity.