It seems like not a day goes by without reading or hearing about identity theft. This includes everything from the large scale breach at Target, to your neighbor having their credit card number stolen. Unfortunately this problem is not going to go away, however, there are things we can do to protect ourselves.
We are entitled to one free credit report every year from each of the three credit bureaus (Experian, Transunion, and Equifax). This can be obtained by going to www.annualcreditreport.com. There are many sites that advertise free credit reports, but this is the only one that does it in a clear, seamless way and they do not try to sell credit monitoring services. You should take a moment and review your credit report each year to make sure everything you see looks correct.
Credit monitoring services offered by companies like LifeLock, Experian, Transunion, and others provide a wide net to protect you. They will put a freeze on your credit which will prevent someone from obtaining new credit in your name. The emphasis on new is a reminder that while they prevent someone from opening a credit card or applying for a loan in your name, they do not prevent someone from using your existing credit cards. They also obtain and send you annual credit reports.
Everything mentioned so far pertains to new credit. To protect the integrity of your existing accounts you should be extremely vigilant about passwords. You should choose a password that is not your last name, your dog’s name or password123. Passwords should be hard to guess and different for each site. Once you have set them it is good to store them in a safe place, and change them frequently. Again, there are many solutions out there but apps like 1Password (available from iTunes) offer a level of security necessary.
With the rise of social media so much about us is searchable on the internet. When you lose your password to a site you typically have the option to reset it. To reset the password you are asked security questions like “What’s your dog’s name?” or “What was your high school mascot?” Chances are the answers for many of these questions can be found through your Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn profiles. So the last step to protecting your information is to make all of your social media accounts private and only available to your friends.
There is no silver bullet to keep us safe, but there are steps we can take to lessen our risk of having our identity stolen.