Every two seconds, someone in America becomes the victim of identity theft, according to Javelin Strategy and Research. It’s the number one complaint reported to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), according to the agency’s 2013 Consumer Sentinel Report.
Although identity theft isn’t 100 percent avoidable, there are a number of steps you can take to help protect yourself and your family.
One of the biggest emotional challenges many victims face is a loss of control, says Nancy Molitor, PhD, a clinical psychologist based in Wilmette, Illinois. That’s why it’s important to have a plan in place ahead of time in case you become a victim.
“The best thing to do is be proactive,” she says. “Make a list now and consider ‘What would I do?’ if you became a victim. Knowledge is key.”
Here are some steps for reducing your risk of identity theft:
- Keep birth certificates, Social Security cards, and other personal documents in a lockbox in your home. Make sure they are put away when someone is working in your home or even if you have a roommate.
- When disposing of documents use a diagonal shredder, which makes documents harder to piece together than a traditional shredder does.
- Don’t leave outgoing bills, government forms, or tax forms in a mailbox. Take them directly to the post office. Have your mail held by the post office while on vacation.
- Don’t put your driver’s license number on your personal checks. Consider writing just your first initial and last name instead of your full name.
- Don’t toss credit card receipts in public places.
- Install anti-virus software, anti-malware software, and a firewall on your computer and keep the programs up to date. A tech-savvy identity thief can use a virus to get personal information from your computer without your knowledge.
- Use unique passwords that are different for each website.
- Don’t put your birthdate or other sensitive information on your social media accounts, even just the month and day. A thief can figure out the year you were born by looking at your posts.
- Consider a credit monitoring and identity theft protection product, such as Equifax Complete™ , which will alert you to changes in your credit file such as a newly opened account. Equifax Complete is available for you as well as your family (two adults and up to four minor children).
The information contained in this blog post is designed to generally educate and inform visitors to the Equifax Finance Blog. The blog posts do not give, and should not be assumed to provide, personalized tax, investment, real estate, legal, retirement, credit, personal financial, or other professional advice. Before making any financial decision, you should always consult with the appropriate professionals who can explain your options, rights, and legal responsibilities, and advise you on any tax, legal, credit, or business implications that may result from those decisions. The views and opinions expressed by the authors of blog posts are their own views and may not be the views or opinions of Equifax, Inc. and/or its affiliates.