Protecting Yourself From Identity Theft

The word identity theft is often used as a blanket statement to refer to a criminal stealing your financial data. However, the crime is more involved than that, and can encompass many levels of manipulating your personal information.

Criminals use victims’ data to empty their bank accounts, make purchases, take out loans, open utility accounts, gain employment and even secure medical treatment. Due to the wide-ranging nature of the crime, it’s important that you take an active part in safeguarding all of your personal details.

Secure Your Paper Documents

Keeping your Social Security card, passport, mortgage statements and tax information locked securely in your home will cut down on your identity theft risk in the event a burglar breaks into your home. Many criminals commit the crime the old-fashioned way by looking for old bank statements or cellphone bills in your garbage, so make sure to cross-shred these documents before disposing of them.

Don’t Carry More Than You Need

Having a back-up credit card is good for emergencies, but walking around with four credit cards, a check book and your Social Security card will put you at greater risk of identity theft if your purse or wallet is lost or stolen. Carry the bare essentials with you when you leave your home and know what type of payment system you plan to use. If you’re only going to the grocery store, take out cash beforehand and leave your credit cards at home.

Update Your Computer Security Settings

Phishing scams, Trojans and key-stroke programs are common ways criminals trick you into revealing personal information. Protect yourself from these malicious schemes by making sure your security and anti-virus software is up-to-date. Avoid responding to emails from senders you don’t recognize. Many criminals send emails that appear to be from a legitimate source, such as a bank or utility company, and ask for personal account details. Legitimate companies NEVER ask for financial details via email, so do not respond, and contact the business immediately to alert them to the situation.

Don’t Reveal Too Much Online

Social networking websites are becoming more popular among criminals who use Facebook and Twitter to meet potential victims and peruse their information. Avoid posting details such as your mother’s maiden name, your address, place of birth and workplace. It may be fun to tweet that you’re on vacation or at a concert, but this information may also alert criminals that you’re not home, giving them the opportunity to break in potentially undetected.

This article is provided for general guidance and information. It is not intended as, nor should it be construed to be, legal, financial or other professional advice. Please consult with your attorney or financial advisor to discuss any legal or financial issues involved with credit decisions.

Published by permission from, Inc.  © 2013, Inc.  All rights reserved.