Protect yourself against identity theft

There have been increasing numbers of identity theft cases reported in recent years. Identity theft is a serious form of fraud; it often comes with serious financial repercussions for its victims as perpetrators clean out bank accounts and establish huge lines of credit using their ill-gotten IDs. This crime can occur both online and off, and may be perpetrated by one novice criminal or a highly trained and organized network. Familiarize yourself with how identity thieves operate and find out some of the most useful steps that you can take to protect yourself, your assets and your credit rating.

Don’t give potential identity thieves an opening
Identity thieves work much like house burglars do – they look for an opening. The only difference is that individuals planning identity theft are not searching for an unlocked door or window to your house, but rather for some carelessness or gap in your personal security. You can help thwart their plans by keeping your wits about you and depriving them of obvious opportunities.

It is said that the best defense is a good offence, but in the case of potential theft of a person’s identity, the best defense is improved security.

Safeguard physical security
A common starting point for an identity thief is stealing your wallet or purse, mainly for the sake of the credit cards and other identification usually found inside. For this reason, you should scan all credit cards and identification documents and store them on a disk on key or external hard drive (don’t email them to yourself and risk having your email account hacked), to make reporting their theft faster and easier if necessary.

It’s also advisable to carry a minimal amount of ID with you – you do not need your passport on your person unless you are traveling internationally, for example. Never, ever keep any account passwords in your wallet.

Another criminal’s trick is to go through your mailbox or garbage, in search of financial statements and other “loot.” Make sure your mailbox is securely locked, or have mail sent to a post office box, and shred all important documents before discarding them.

Be equally careful of online security
Safeguard your personal computer with a good anti-virus program, which is regularly updated. Use firewalls and secure browsers for further protection. Choose a unique, hard-to-guess password for each account, and change passwords occasionally. Be wary of accessing sensitive password-protected sites, such as your bank account, from any public computer.

Be equally cautious about revealing personal information via social media sites — even something as seemingly innocent as posting the fun photos taken at your 30th birthday party (which will alert thieves to your date of birth).