Guest Blog Post from Lexington Law
With major data breaches making headlines across the globe, the public’s concern with identity theft
has never been greater. But, is it possible you’re actually helping identity thieves get your personal information, and you don’t even know it?
Following are five ways identity thieves are getting your information and what you can do to protect yourself and your family.
You haven’t memorized your Social Security Number (SSN)
Granted, it’s not easy for everyone to remember that nine-digit number, especially with so many other pieces of important and trivial data competing for space in our brains. The real problem, however, is what you’re doing instead.
If you carry your SSN card around with you (or have the number written down) in your wallet, purse, or the glove compartment of your car, you’re practically begging for an identity thief to destroy your life. While losing some cash or even your ATM card can be upsetting and costly, it pales in comparison to what a clever thief can do with your social security number.
Best practice: Memorize it, no matter how hard that seems. Then, keep your physical SSN card locked away where you know it’s going to be safe, perhaps in a safety deposit box or a fireproof case at home.
You’re not shredding sensitive documents
You can buy a simple office paper shredder at Staples or Walmart for less than $30, and it can save you time and money by making it nearly impossible for identity thieves to gather your personal information through the aptly named method of “dumpster diving.”
As the name implies, thieves will gladly physically pick through your garbage as it sits in a dumpster or on the side of the road awaiting collection. If you’ve thrown out any paperwork that includes personal information, you’re handing them free access to steal your identity. Remember, the three keys that will open nearly everything you hold sacred are your full name, date of birth, and SSN. How many times have you blithely thrown out a document with one or more of those items printed on it?
Best practice: Get in the habit of shredding everything — from birthday cards to junk mail — that could help a thief learn more about you.
You're sharing absolutely everything about yourself online
As a society, we’ve become incredibly willing and able to share our lives with friends, family, and the public at large. From major life events to what we ate for lunch, taking a quick selfie and tacking on an update is almost second nature for many. Unfortunately, this oversharing mentality has led otherwise intelligent people to take some pretty stupid risks with their personal information.
Sure, most of us wouldn’t snap a picture of our credit card and post it online (yes, it’s happened
,) but what about freely offering up your date of birth on your social profiles just so everyone can bombard you with “happy birthday” messages? Or, do your profiles publicly reveal your full address, what schools you’ve attended, or your mother’s maiden name? As you know, these and a thousand other snippets of personal information are commonly used to secure vital accounts and records, so they can be used just as easily to open them up without your knowledge.
Best practice: When it comes to the kind of personal information thieves can use to steal your identity, share as little as you possibly can, whether you’re online or not. And, be mindful of how thoroughly you expose your normal routine and schedule, since all kinds of thieves would love to know when you are home and when you are out.
You're shopping carelessly online
It’s essentially impossible these days to completely avoid making purchases online. And, realistically, there’s no reason you should have to do so to stay safe. However, the Internet is rife with scams, viruses, and outright fraud schemes that can steal your financial, medical, and identifying information before you can even say, “I’ve been phished!”
By law, retailers aren’t allowed to save your full credit card number and other details on their servers unless you give them permission
. It seems really convenient to just check the little box so you won’t need to type in that tedious 16-digit number again every time you buy something from that site. But it won’t feel so convenient when that company ends up as the next victim of a data breach
and now your credit card information — and everything else attached to it in your site profile — ends up in a thief’s hands.
Never allow a website to save your credit card information. Also, make sure any site you consider buying from is secure (with HTTPS:// in front of the URL), preferably with multiple layers. And please don’t respond to that Nigerian prince or Croatian businessman who emailed you out of the blue. (Yes, it’s happened
You access the Internet via an unsecured Wi-Fi hotspot
Free Wi-Fi has come to be expected in most public spaces, like restaurants, hotels, and shopping centers. And that’s fantastic for standard Internet searches, looking up directions, or checking out your Instagram feed. But, if you’re checking your bank balance or making a purchase, it becomes a dangerous situation indeed.
The technology exists to intercept unsecured Wi-Fi signals and record every single keystroke, swipe, and long-press. And, it’s not hard to obtain or to use. In other words, if you’re using unsecured Wi-Fi, there’s a better-than-average chance it’s already hacked. If you enter a login and password while you’re connected to that signal, an identity thief knows what it is. If you expose your SSN, credit card number, or any other valuable information over that Wi-Fi, they have that now too.
Best practice: Never access protected information over an unsecured public Wi-Fi hotspot. And please, please, PLEASE setup your home Wi-Fi with a secure login and password.
Unfortunately, we don’t have the time or space to cover every possible way in which you could be helping identity thieves do their job. But this list gives you an excellent head start on avoiding the dumb things smart people sometimes do. Rather than facing the legal, financial, and emotional disaster that is identity theft
(credit repair, account replacement, lingering debt, illegal activity that appears to be yours, etc.), follow these common sense best practices.