Protect yourself from identity theft

Protect yourself from identity theft

These days, a simple run to the store for diapers and bread can end with worry about identity theft. For instance, news of the massive security breach at Target during the holiday shopping season left customers unsure of how to shop safely, or what to do when their personal information gets compromised.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 16.6 million people reported at least one incidence of identity theft in 2012, the most recent year for which statistics are available. That’s up from the department’s 2008 study that showed 11.7 million victims of identity theft.

However, those numbers don’t include consumers whose personal information was compromised. Fran Rosch, senior vice president at Symantec, a computer security and software firm based in California, testified in February before a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee that millions more are at risk.

Consider these tips to keep your private information private:

Determine who wants to know your information and why

Reduce your risk of identity theft by never giving personal information over the phone to people you don’t know. If you shop online, do so only from trusted, verified and secure sites. Thieves can use your name, address, date of birth, Social Security number, driver’s license number and credit card numbers to open new accounts.

When in doubt, say no. You as the consumer always retain the power to re-engage a company’s services in a way that makes you feel secure.

Don’t leave a trail

Attorneys general in nearly every state remind consumers to guard your records and receipts. Don’t just toss unsolicited credit offers in the trash — shred those and any information that contains identifying, private data.

Check to see what information you carry in your wallet and on your checks. Never carry your Social Security Card with you, and don’t print it on your checks. The more information you include on your checks, the easier you make it for a would-be thief to apply for credit in your name.

Consider spending limits on your credit cards, or at the very least sign up for alerts. If a large expense gets posted to your account, a security alert requires lenders to take additional steps to verify your identity before extending credit.

Watch yourself in public places

Beware of free hotspots, says Spencer Alexander, owner of highly rated Alexander Technical Resources in Atlanta. “Spy technology can lurk in these areas without you even knowing it,” he says. So banking or shopping online using debit or credit cards puts you at risk. “Once you leave the site and head home, the bad guys have all the [information] they need.”

Alexander advises clients to protect themselves by ensuring mobile devices contain strong firewalls and to consider getting a personal mobile hotspot that’s protected and trusted. Personal hotspot devices sell on average for $50 to $150, though shoppers can find a variety of devices in almost any price range.

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