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9 Ways to Prevent Identity Theft

Identity theft is probably one of the oldest and most common crimes around, with more and more people falling victim to it, each day. For this reason, it’s important that you take the necessary measures to protect yourself. You’re objective is always to prevent the theft of sensitive information about yourself, whether it be telephone numbers, addresses, names, bank account details, credit card numbers, or your social security number.

These criminals are able to use this information in so many ways, whether it’s via applying for new credit cards or loans, opening up a new bank account, going on a shopping spree or setting up a new monthly phone subscription. Some identity thieves will even give your name and details to a police officer, in the event that they are arrested.

In order to minimise the effects of identity theft, it all depends on how vigilant you are, in guarding your own privacy. Below you will find a list of 9 ways that you can more readily protect your own personal affixes.

1. Use Complex Passwords and Regularly Change Them

When choosing or making a password for any of your online accounts, it’s very important that you go with something complex, so that it isn’t easily guessed. Avoid any of the more obvious passwords such as “password”, “123456789” a family members name, the names of your own children, pets, spouses or anything else that can be linked to personal information about you.

2. Follow Your Billing Cycles for Credit & Debit Cards

Identity thieves like to alter your billing information, by changing your address. You want to ensure all billing information, is sent directly to you, at the beginning or end of each month. That way you can better prevent any instances of identity theft.

3. Regularly Review Bank Statements & Credit Cards

When it comes to identity theft, credit card fraud is amongst the most common type, according to data compiled by the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Network. For this reason, one of the best ways you can prevent falling prey to identity theft is by regularly checking over your bank and credit card statements. You want to look out for any transactions that you do not recognise. These amounts can be anything, and any size, as the thief is testing the waters, to see what they can and cannot get away with.

If the thief is able to get away with the first smaller financial infraction, then often times, this will give them the impetus to make much larger purchases. You should know exactly when your statements are to arrive, and if they don’t arrive on time, then you should enquiry.

4. Protect Your Personal Electronic Devices

There are a number of steps that you can and should take, to protect all of the personal information that you have stored on your electronic devices, such as laptops, smartphones, tablets etc.:

  • Download and install a firewall along with a secure browser.
  • Only download files and/or programs from trusted sources.
  • Make sure you have an active antivirus scanner running on your system(s).
  • Avoid using any automated log-in features, as they store your account details, such as usernames and passwords.
  • When getting rid of any of your devices, such as an old mobile phone, be sure to wipe any existing data on it, first.

5. Install Antivirus Software

Antivirus software is capable of protecting your smartphone and computer systems from hackers accessing information they shouldn’t be. The FTC states that there’s a high chance you haven fallen prey to a malicious attack, such as spyware, viruses, PuP, if your computer meets any of these conditions:

  • Its battery drains super quickly.
  • Your computer doesn’t restart or shut down.
  • You receive a lot of unwanted ads and pop-ups while using your system.
  • Your computer, or other devices, regularly freeze, crash or displays error messages.
  • When browsing the net, you’re regularly redirected to web pages you did not search for.
  • Toolbars are installed on your browser without your consent.
  • Your default web browser is changed.

Criminals find it significantly easier to hack systems with outdated software on them, for this reason, it’s important that you keep everything up-to-date, especially and including your antivirus scanner.

6. Your Trash Is Important

In order to minimise identity theft, you can do that by shredding any credit card offers, receipts, returned checks, bank statements and any sensitive information that can be used against you.

7. Enable Two-Factor Authentication Where Applicable

Over 80% of all hacking-related breaches are as a result of compromised or stolen passwords, according to data compiled by the 2017 Data Breach Investigations Report carried out by Verizon. Two-factor authentication (2FA) works by adding an additional layer of security, which can be enabled via social media accounts, email, credit cards, bank accounts etc. Multiple methods of identification are thus required to unlock your account, including combinations like the following:

  • The requirement of a smartphone or tablet device.
  • A password or PIN code.
  • A voice print or fingerprint.

The best thing about 2FA is that, even if a criminal was able to acquire your password, they still would not be able to access your accounts without having accessing to your voiceprint, fingerprint or smartphone. One of the most common examples of 2FA entails signing into your account using your password, then receiving a test message on your phone, containing a code that you must enter in order to access the account.

8. Regularly Collect Your Mail

Identity theft isn’t always done using the most complex methods. One of the easiest and most common methods criminals use to steal your identity is to take your physical mail out of your mailbox. Sensitive documentation such as utility bills, credit card statements, tax forms, health care forms, pre-approved credit card details, and other items that contain your personal details. Another method they use is to submit a change-of-address request in order to reroute your mail. You can combat this by keeping track of any and all mail you are expected to receive. In the event that something doesn’t arrive, then you know to take action.

9. Protect Personal Information Online

Try to avoid any personal information about yourself, such as birth dates on social media platforms and the like. You also don’t want to provide any financial or personal information on websites that are not secure. To determine whether or not a site is secure, you will need to look out for the security symbol, which is a padlock, besides the URL which should start with an “https”, rather than your standard “http”. You can click on the padlock, to find out whether or not the SSL is up-to-date.

Uchenna Ani-Okoye is a former IT Manager who now runs his own computer support website https://www.compuchenna.co.uk.

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