Buying a home or car, getting a loan to advance your education, taking out a credit line for a new baby or much-needed vacation — these should be the happiest times of your life.
Yet every two seconds, someone in the United States learns their dreams are all on hold because their identity has been stolen and their credit ruined.
How do these thieves get your sensitive information, and how can you stop them?
Take Precautions With Your Trash
“Dumpster diving” doesn’t just occur in business parking lots. Identity thieves have multiple opportunities to get their greedy hands on your trash.
Your trash cans often contain a plethora of sensitive information that can be used to steal your identity.
Medical bills, notices from the IRS, bank statements, credit card statements and receipts, and especially pre-approved credit card notices are all fodder for identity thieves.
Identity thieves can get these documents from your yard, when it’s on the garbage truck, or even after it is dumped into a landfill.
Instead of walking from the mailbox to the garbage can to toss the junk mail, bring it in and shred it.
Also, shred documents you throw away when filing your taxes, paying bills, or cleaning out old files.
Watch Out When Using Debit, Credit, and ATM Cards
There are two ways thieves can steal your information when you use a credit, debit, or ATM card.
First, they can simply peek over your shoulder as you enter your security code.
Unfortunately, most people use the same code for all their accounts, so once thieves gain access to one account they can get it all.
The second way is by skimming. A card skimmer is a device that fits into card scanners, such as those at ATM machines or pay-at-the-pump gas stations.
The transaction appears to go as planned (you get your money or pay for your gas), but the skimmer steals your card number, PIN number, etc., and the identity thief gets it.
Learn to spot potential card skimmers, always cover your hand when entering a PIN, and use cash when you can instead of depending on plastic.
Keep Tabs on Your Mail
Thieves can get access to your mail before it gets into your home. Mail thieves target the same items as dumpster divers.
Plus, mail thieves are known for stealing checks and washing them.
Check washing is a chemical process that removes the ink, so the identity thief can enter their own payment information, including the amount of the check.
It can be weeks, months, or years before this type of theft is discovered.
Secure Your Mobile Devices
Your mobile devices are portable blueprints of your entire life.
Most people use these to store everything from passwords to family photos to financial documents.
In other words: your mobile devices are a potential busload of goodies for an identity thief.
Use strong passwords, not the names of your pets or your birthday.
Never elect to auto-save passwords for your apps, such as your bank app or credit card company app.
Use Caution When Visiting Websites
Another trick identity thieves use is to create mock websites that look like the websites you use and trust, such as PayPal, Amazon, and even Google.
Never follow a link from an email to a website to enter sensitive information. Bookmark the sites you know are legitimate, and navigate to them from your bookmarks.
If you receive emails from websites such as these, visit the website directly, not from the email link.
When you visit a trusted website where you need to enter information, check the URL to make sure it’s where you intended to be.
Look for the security icon at the top of your browser.
Invest in Identity Theft Protection
Of course, you can do all of these things faithfully and still fall victim to identity thieves.
You can’t control what goes on at your bank, credit card company, the vendors where you shop, or the folks at your doctor’s office.
The best protection for the information outside your direct control is identity theft insurance.
Instead of looking for protection that only offers credit monitoring, look for a policy that provides help if your identity is stolen.
This process is time-consuming and frustrating if you have to go it alone. Additionally, find a company that will reimburse you for any losses you incur as a result of identity theft.
Once you have taken reasonable precautions, try to relax.
Stay smart and don’t let the small possibility of this crime rob you from enjoying your life.