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Preventing Identity Theft

With 15 million cases of identity theft per year, some say that this may be the most frequent and costly crime that we experience in the United States today. In fact, every second that passes, another American becomes a victim of ID theft. While this is an unfortunate and common reality in today's increasingly connected world, the best way to protect yourself is to understand the methods of ID theft criminals, and adapt your lifestyle and habits accordingly.

Phishing and SMishing 

Phishing websites often send you emails that look legit, but are actually imposters literally "fishing" for personal information. These emails can take on many forms — false lottery scams, fake credit card offers, or even your "bank" declaring your account has been compromised.  Similar attempts are often sent straight to your phone via text message — a method commonly referred to as SMishing. Hackers might even go so far as to call your phone under false pretenses. 

Protect yourself:  As a general rule of thumb, if anyone contacts you asking for personal information, always assume it's a scam! Never reply to these emails or text messages, and be sure not to click any provided links as they may contain hacking devices.  When it comes to false banks or credit card companies, it never hurts to be too safe — instead of responding via the email, text or phone call, contact your financial institution directly to make sure they're actually the ones requesting the information. 

Wireless Hacking

Wireless hacking is one of the most common methods of ID theft today. Hackers will connect to public WiFi networks or unsecured home networks and may even install key logging software that tracks websites you visit and passwords that you enter.

Protect yourself: Secure your WiFi network. Your internet provider can help set up what's called "WEP2 encryption," and add password protection to your network. Use strong passwords for online sites, incorporating numbers, capital letters and symbols. Avoid using public WiFi networks when online banking or in any situation where you have to provide personal information — do this at home where your network is secure.

Dumpster Diving

It may seem old-fashioned, but dumpster diving is still a common practice for ID theft criminals. These thieves will go through your home garbage and public garbage cans, looking for documents that carry personal information.

Protect yourself: Shred all documents before you throw them away. This means old receipts, credit card applications, billing statements, checks, credit cards and anything else that includes personal information.

ATM and Payment Machines 

As U.S. consumers, swiping our credit cards and entering our pin numbers has become so commonplace that we don't think about it. This leaves us susceptible to criminals looking for openings to steal information. Thieves have been known to "shoulder surf" or rig ATM's and payment machines with card skimmers — devices that "harvest" data from the magnetic strip of every card that is swiped.

Protect yourself: Always be aware of your surroundings, and try only to use machines at locations that you trust. Scan the machine for anything that looks unsual. Any colors that are off or material that isn't aligned correctly. Wiggle any devices that seem out of place — ATMs are built to last, so nothing should be loose.

While all of these solutions help reduce your risk of ID theft, there's no surefire way to protect yourself from hacking. Be sure to frequently check all credit card and bank statements for unusual activity, and always look at your yearly credit report — it's free!

Like putting on our seatbelt before we drive, adopting habits to reduce the impact of ID theft doesn't assure that the impact won't occur.  If you are ever the victim of identity theft, act quickly. Contact all your credit providers immediately to notify them of the incident. Be sure to report the theft to the police. Ask them to file a police report and give you a copy — you'll need this to help correct your credit rating. Finally, consider a security freeze of fruad alert. When it comes to identity theft, do everything in your power to make sure you're not on the hook for what those crooks did.

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