You’ve probably heard about the recent data breaches at Target and Home Depot that put millions of customers’ credit card information at risk.
Identity theft and information-based fraud is the fastest growing crime in the United States. While consumers can’t always control the security of their personal information, they can take steps to reduce their risk of identify theft.
Here are 10 steps you should consider taking:
1. Check your credit card statements carefully to make sure that you actually made the purchases. If you see suspicious activity, contact your credit card company immediately.
2. Be careful when you shop online. Don’t store your credit card number on a retailer’s website. If the website is hacked, your information will be at risk.
3. Shred receipts, credit card offers, bank statements, returned checks and any other personal information before throwing it away or recycling it. It is well worth the investment in a shredder; you can find a good one for as little as $70.
4. Limit what you carry when you go out, taking only the identification, credit/debit cards that you need. Leave your Social Security card, birth certificate and passport at home. Don’t carry blank checks.
5. Keep a list of account numbers, expiration dates and telephone numbers filed away in a safe, accessible place. Should your wallet be stolen, for instance, you will want to alert your creditors quickly.
6. Do not give out personal information over the phone unless you initiated the call.
7. Take outgoing mail to post office collection boxes or the post office. Remove arriving mail promptly; if you are going to be away, put a vacation hold on your mail. When you order new checks, pick them up at the bank instead of having them mailed to you.
8. Review your credit report regularly to monitor suspicious activity.
9. Create passwords or PIN numbers using random letters and numbers. Don’t use the same password with every account. If available, use a second form of authentication in the same way that you need a PIN with your ATM card.
10. Make sure that the people to whom you entrust your personal information – employers, landlords, businesses, schools, medical offices – keep it safe. Ask them why they need the information, how they will protect it, and the consequences of not sharing it.
This is our list. If you have any tips, we encourage you to share them in the comment section below.