Gone are the days when identity theft meant a few fraudulent charges on your credit card.
Today's criminals aren't just running up debt and stealing money from bank accounts; they're also hacking financial institutions and electronically stealing your data as you walk down the street. By the time your credit card gets rejected at a restaurant or your statements are plastered with fraudulent charges, it's usually too late—the damage has been done.
Recovering from identity theft is an epic battle few are equipped to fight. Just Google "stories of identity theft" for stomach-turning tales of innocent people who spent years and thousands of dollars repairing the damage to their finances and reputations. Thankfully, you don't have to be a victim or an easy target. Here are six easy steps we can all take to keep those would-be thieves from having the last laugh.
1. Only carry what you need. Simplicity is not only the ultimate sophistication, it's critical to maintaining privacy. Thieves can't steal what they can't get to. Keep your social security card stashed safely at home and only carry the credit or debit cards you need.
2. Shred your garbage and personal papers. Celebs aren't the only ones who have strangers going through their trash. Those pre-approved credits card offers you casually pitch in the garbage are manna for criminals hoping to open fraudulent accounts in your name. In the hands of a savvy criminal, utility bills can lead to a wealth of personal info.
3. Don't auto-save passwords on your technology. If you're app-obsessed like me, you probably have banking apps on your smartphone. But what happens if you lose your phone or tablet? Don't make it easy for criminals by auto-saving your password-set up the app to require a password at every log in. Go a step even further and add a password to your mobile device.
4. Don't check accounts in public. I admit—I am totally guilty of opening up my banking apps and checking my account balances on my phone during my morning bus commute. This is a giant NO. Anyone with good eyesight could "shoulder surf" you. Avoid prying eyes—check your balances from the privacy of your home.
5. Beware of the new pickpockets. Modern pickpockets aren't the Dickensian ones of yore. Today's scammers don't have to bump into you and snag your wallet to walk away with your personal info. Nifty new technology means electronic pickpockets need only casually walk by you and scan your bag or back pocket with an RFID scanner. This data breach strikes without warning so make it hard for the criminals by carrying an RFID-blocking wallet. Don't let the sleek lines or slim, compact design of these wallets fool you—many strike a balance between simplicity and safety. RFID skimming occurs when criminals use RFID readers to transmit personal information from the encoded chips found in some credit cards, driver's licenses and passports. These wallets guard your personal information by interfering with your card's RFID signals. Companies like Leopardd, Lodis and Buxton offer beautifully designed leather versions that are as protective as they are stylish.
6. Don't give out personal information to any company that calls you. Remember being told "Don't talk to strangers?" That rule still applies, especially when it comes to your personal or financial information. Beware of the solicitous call. If the caller wants your account number, don't give it up. Ask them for a callback number and investigate the vendor or company before returning their call or handing over any personal info.