For all the ways the Information Age has improved our lives, there have been a few worrisome glitches—such as identity theft. That's the illegal use of someone else's personal information to obtain money or credit. Approximately 16.7 million people were victims of identity theft in 2017, according to Javelin Research. Here are nine easy ways you can protect yourself.
Be careful with your social security number
Don’t give out your social security number over the phone—ever—unless you’re on the line with a credible financial institution that you've called. Also, never provide it to any organization or business online, unless you’re applying for a job, a credit card, a new loan, or filling out legitimate online forms from trusted sources. Keep your social security card at home, and never include your social security number on your checks.
Up your password game
Hackers use digital tools to guess passwords. Make sure your passwords are complex enough to make them difficult to get. If you do business with a company that has experienced a data breach, change your passwords immediately.
Avoid questionable online shopping sites
If you run across an online deal that just seems too good to be true—such as 90 percent off the latest smartphone—it probably is.
Open emails with caution
If you don’t recognize the sender or the email address, don’t open it. Also, be wary of suspicious-looking email, even if it looks like it’s from a friend. Your friend’s email was probably hacked. Delete the email, and let your friend know about it—by phone or text.
Keep your antivirus software up-to-date
Hackers design viruses to sneak into your applications, so they can steal your personal information. With that in mind, make sure you have antivirus software running—and keep it updated.
Conduct financial tasks over secure networks only
Don’t check your bank account balances or credit card statements when using public Wi-Fi. As a precaution, consider using a virtual privacy network (VPN) when connecting to the Internet in a public place as unsecured connections can be hijacked.
Shred printed materials
Even in the digital age, one of the easiest ways for someone to steal your identity is off a printed check, so keep your checkbook at home. Shred any mail, receipts, or expired credit cards to prevent critical information from falling into the hands of dumpster divers.
Appear to be at home when you're not at home
If you’re away on vacation, ask a neighbor to pick up your mail, so it’s not easily stolen. If you're planning on a longer trip, contact your local post office to request that it hold your mail until you return.
Review your digital identity regularly
Remember to always examine monthly credit card and financial account statements to look for any unauthorized activity. If you discover anything that appears amiss, contact institutions immediately to discuss the matter. If it appears your accounts have been accessed without your permission, file a report and contact the three credit-reporting agencies to request that they freeze your credit reports.
AAA Members can enroll in ProtectMyID® Essential as a benefit of Membership, which provides daily credit monitoring, fraud resolution support, and lost wallet assistance. If you're not already a Member of AAA, consider joining today.
This article was updated in April 2018. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.