Here at Lancaster Red Rose Credit Union, we strive to make and keep our members happy. However, not everything we help with will have an ‘easy fix,’ and one of those cases is identity theft. Identity theft is a huge issue and continues to grow every year. So, although we will be here to help you during such hardships, such as if you’d become a victim to identity theft, we also want to help you learn how to prevent it from happening in the first place. The following are some general tips for online identity theft protection and prevention:
1. Monitor your credit
Monitoring your credit allows you to notice suspicious activity that may be going on without your knowledge, like the opening of credit cards you never applied for. One way to ensure identity theft protection is to monitor your credit by requesting your free annual credit reports from Annual Credit Reports. This allows you to view your report information to see if anything suspicious stands out or even alert you to wrongly listed info that needs to be corrected.
However, to better monitor your credit, you don’t want to just rely on checking your credit reports once a year. There are a couple truly free options, like Credit Karma and Credit Sesame, for you to constantly monitor your credit and even know what your credit score is. Keep in mind that you don’t even need to give these services your credit card number to sign up like some other services make you do.
Identity Theft Protection Tip: Credit Sesame allows you to monitor your credit score and all credit activity based off your Experian credit report. You can set up notifications for when new activity appears which will alert you of suspicious activity and could be an early indicator of identity theft.
2. Properly destroy all forms of personal information
Even though you may hate getting junk mail in your mailbox every day, keep in mind that it may not be ‘junk’ to someone else; junk mail is an important aspect of identity theft protection. The key aspect type of junk mail we’re referring to is all of those ‘pre-approved’ applications for credit cards, loans, etc. Should someone rummage through your trash to find those applications, and had they somehow already been able to learn what your SSN is, all they need to do is fill out the application but use a different mailing address to have the card shipped to. Once approved, that credit card will be sent directly to them and you now have become a victim to credit card fraud without even knowing.
Another area where personal information can accidentally be leaked is in both old and new electronics. Whenever you get a new personal computer, what do you do with your old one? If you recycle or sell the old one, are you making sure there is no personal information left behind on it? Whether it comes to cell phones, laptops or desktop computers, you want to make sure all of your personal information is properly cleaned off before you get rid of it. When it comes to recycling your computers, make sure to use a Hard Drive erasing utility such as Eraser or Disk Wipe which allow you to securely wipe all the contents of the hard drive. This will better guarantee data not being able to be retrieved by whoever may receive the computer.
However, if you want to be truly 100% safe in your identity theft protection practices, simply get a replacement hard drive and install it in the computer before you sell or give it away. Old hard drives can then be destroyed using high strength magnets or even with your trusty hammer you might have bought at a local hardware store here in Lancaster, PA.
Why I would suggest such extreme measures? Take a closer look at this PBS story to see where your rejected electronics end up.
3. Watch what you share online
When it comes to social media, you want to be careful of what information you put out there. First off, make sure the security settings for your profile are locked down to how you want them. For example, if you’re using Facebook you might want to limit your profile information to only be visible to people you have friended. This allows you to keep your friends updated with your current information (such as phone number, email address, etc) while not letting the whole world be able to view it.
When it comes to any website, social media or not, just keep in mind what information you are sharing and especially saving. We’ll go more in-depth with safe online shopping tips at another time, but one item that fits here is to not save your personal information on shopping websites. While it may seem like a time saver to have your name, phone number, address, and credit card information stored for future shopping, you’re actually opening yourself up to new risks just by having such personal information saved, and stored, on websites all over the internet that you technically may not have control over.
4. Be careful with public computers and WiFi
When traveling or out and about, be cautious of what kind of online activity you’re doing on both publicly accessible computers and while connected to public WiFi even with your own device. An identity theft protection tip that we suggest is keeping to general browsing if you need to use a public computer for any reason.
When on public WiFi, also keep in mind that you’re sharing that WiFi connection with other strangers to which you have no clue what they’re doing. Refrain from doing anything sensitive such as online shopping or banking, while connected to public WiFi. Also, if you are signing into things such as email or social media, make sure you’re doing so over an HTTPS connection so that the traffic is at least encrypted.
5. Keep your computer safe
Make sure that you’re keeping your own computers and devices safe. Credit card fraud can happen when computers get infected with malware that is designed to steal data. To better protect your personal information, make sure you’re doing things such as online shopping from a computer you can trust. Install anti-virus, and anti-malware, programs to help keep your computer clean. Microsoft Security Essentials is a nice, free anti-virus solution to help better keep your computer constantly protected. Malwarebytes is another great tool for detecting and protecting your computer from malware that normal anti-virus software might not catch. While they do offer a free version, their paid version offers real-time scanning and protection, thus allowing you to be even better protected.
Hopefully, these tips better help you understand how identity theft can happen, but also on how to better avoid the unfortunate experience. There are also plenty of other ways to help better protect yourself from identity theft, so if you have any questions about these 5 identity theft protection tips or want to know more, please feel free to reach out and contact us.