Perhaps the most valuable piece of currency on the Internet today is personal information. Just as in real life, it needs to be guarded and protected from falling into the wrong hands. Scammers can use nefariously-obtained personal info to open credit card accounts, purchase expensive items and more. And although it’s usually a briefly gratifying experience for the criminal, it can lead to years and years of grief and confusion for the victim. Here are 10 ways to protect yourself from identity theft and keep your online privacy safe:
Identity Theft and Online Safety Tips
– Services like Lifelock, Identity Guard or Trusted ID other protection services may be worth the investment for your family if this is something you are particularly worried about. For as little as $10 a month, these services will keep an eye out for your personal information and in some cases even monitor your credit reports for you.
– At least once a year, it’s good to check up on your credit reports for you and all members of your family. This can be done by visiting www.annualcreditreport.com. According to the Federal Trade Commission, this is the only site authorized to provide you with the free credit report you’re entitled to by law. If you find something wrong, you’ll not only want to contact the credit companies directly, but also the proper authorities. All this information can found at www.ftc.gov.
– The FBI also recently warned against a surprising danger of posting images online: the use of geolocation tags embedded in the image that can be accessed and show exactly where on earth the picture was taken. This could be dangerous because you could be unwittingly letting others know where you live and work via these photos you are posting online. We recommend disabling all “Location Services” on your family’s smartphones, which can easily be done on the Settings menu of most devices.
– Although this may seem obvious, do what you can to protect your social security number. Don’t be afraid to ask if it’s really necessary on any form that’s asking for it. And if it is, make sure you’re comfortable knowing that the place you’re turning it over to, be it a school or a doctor’s office, will adequately protect it. The last four digits of the number, when combined with the birthdate and place of birth, can be used to generate the complete nine-digit social security number.
– Practice safe computing habits and password guarding, just as you guard your ATM code when using an ATM machine. If you’re using a computer on a public network, refrain if possible from checking sites that require login information, and especially avoid doing activities such as online banking.
– If you or someone in your family starts getting junk mail or credit card applications out of nowhere, that may be a sign that someone is using their identity. This is an especially important warning flag if it’s a young kid who starts to receive this information.
– Think twice before sharing your child’s name online or in public. Whether it’s on your Facebook and Twitter page or on stickers you place on your car, it’s possible that the wrong person can see this information and use this information to steal their identity.
– It’s important to distinguish that you’re only checking to see if a report exists when you contact the credit companies to see if you have one for your children. Unless they’ve been a victim of identity theft, they shouldn’t have one, and ordering one could cause the credit bureaus to open on in their name, which is unnecessary.
– Credit service Equifax recently launched a family plan that keeps tabs on the identities of two adults and up to four children, but it comes with a potentially steep price tag: $29.95 a month. For that price parents can get e-mail or text message whenever someone tries to use any of the family’s IDs.
– The first step if you think you are a victim of identity theft is to place a fraud alert with one of the credit companies. Once you contact them, verify that they will contact the other two credit bureaus about the fraud alert as well. You can contact any of the three:
In addition to taking steps to close any fraudulent accounts you find about, you’ll also need to file an Identity Theft Report and a Police Report to begin the process of straightening the identity theft out. For starters, you can download and fill out the FTC Affidavit at www.ftc.gov/complaint. Once you’ve done that, you can then take that form to your local police department and use it to fill out a police report.
After that, you can call the credit companies and request an extended fraud alert, which will stay in effect for seven years.
For more tips like this, make sure to check out this helpful guide from the FTC which contains checklists and step-by-step instructions for what to do if you’ve been a victim of identity theft: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/idtheft/idt04.pdf
The FTC also offers a comprehensive site discussing many aspects of identity theft, including tips for how to avoid identity theft http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/