7 Ways You’re Helping Identity Thieves Exploit Your Bad Habits

ways to prevent identity theft

Falling victim to identity theft can be a terrible experience. But imagine how much worse you might feel if you found out you made it possible.

Although it’s great to follow general identity theft protection tips, it’s also important to audit how you handle your sensitive information.

Find out how you might be helping identity thieves steal your personal information.

7 ways you’re helping identity thieves steal your info

If you’re looking for ways to prevent identity theft, consider making changes to the little things you do every day.

Here are seven bad habits you need to break as soon as possible.

1. Not checking for tampering at the pump or ATM

One way fraudsters get your credit card number is by installing credit card skimmers over card readers at gas stations and ATMs. It can be hard to distinguish a skimmer from a real card reader.

When you swipe your card, the skimmer reads your credit card information, allowing the owner to create a fake credit card using your data.

What you can do

  • Check for a tamper-proof sticker on the machine.
  • Do a quick check of other pumps at the gas station to see if any card readers look different.
  • Pay for gas with cash.

2. Shopping online indiscriminately

Not every website is set up to process your information securely.

The good news is it’s easy to know which websites are secure and which aren’t.

Look at the web address:

  • If it says HTTP, it’s unsecure.
  • If it says HTTPS, it’s secure.

If you enter credit card or other sensitive information on an HTTP site, someone can “eavesdrop” and steal the information.

What you can do

  • Enter personal information only on secure websites.
  • The fact that a website is secure doesn’t mean it’s safe. If you’ve never heard of the website, make sure it’s reputable. Check the URL for typos and do an internet search for reviews of the site by other users.
  • Don’t enter personal information on any website while you’re on a public Wi-Fi network.

3. Opting for paper statements

Identity thieves also rummage through mailboxes to find financial statements that might have valuable personal information.

Some financial institutions try to combat this practice by sending statements in nondescript envelopes. But it’s not a guaranteed defense.

What you can do

  • Opt to receive e-statements for your financial accounts. You can easily view them online.
  • If you want to keep paper statements, get a P.O. box only you have access to.
  • If you plan to mail anything with sensitive information, take it directly to the post office. Leaving it in your mailbox for the mail carrier makes it possible for thieves to get it.

4. Neglecting your online accounts

It takes only seconds to log in to your account online or via a mobile app and check your recent transactions.

However, despite the convenience, it can be easy to neglect this crucial task. And if you don’t check your transactions regularly, you might miss fraud as it’s happening.

For instance, I worked for a network marketing company while I was in college. One day, I spoke with a man who claimed the company owed him $300 for a charge he didn’t authorize.

As I researched the issue, I learned that someone had stolen his credit card information years before and charged more than $15,000 to the card. But because he rarely checked his online account or monthly statements, he never noticed it.

What you can do

  • Use budgeting software that directly imports transactions from all your accounts in one place. That way, you don’t have to log in to each account separately.
  • Have a set schedule for double-checking your recent transactions. Try to do it at least once every week or two.
  • Place a fraud alert on your credit reports.

5. Using simple passwords

If you’ve spent enough time on the internet, you’ve likely read about how important it is to use complex passwords. Flying in the face of that wisdom, the most common password in 2016 was “123456,” according to Keeper Security.

You might think you’re fine as long as you don’t use one of Keeper’s 25 most common passwords. But even using, say, your daughter’s name or your cat’s name and one or two numbers isn’t enough.

Fraudsters can easily guess this type of password through social engineering. That’s the process of tricking victims into giving out personal information voluntarily.

What you can do

  • Use a tool like LastPass or 1Password to generate and save unique passwords for your online accounts.
  • Avoid using the same password more than once. For example, when LinkedIn suffered a data breach, someone gained access to my Walmart account because I used the same password on both websites. They spent more than $7,000 on the three cards saved in the account.
  • Avoid using any personally identifiable information in your passwords.

6. Not using a shredder

Identity thieves aren’t opposed to rifling through your trash to find documents that include sensitive information. Even if you tear them up before throwing them out, it can be easy to piece them back together.

What you can do

  • Buy a shredder and shred your sensitive documents before throwing them out. If you’re not sure whether something qualifies as sensitive, shred it anyway.
  • If you don’t want to buy a shredder, companies like UPS and Office Depot offer shredding services for a small fee.
  • Use e-statements to limit the number of documents you need to shred.

7. Answering unsolicited calls

When you get an unsolicited phone call, there’s no way to verify who’s on the line. They might be a telemarketer or a representative from your bank. Or they could be a scammer.

This is just one of the many ways fraudsters use social engineering to get sensitive information from you.

What you can do

  • Never give out information like your name, birthdate, Social Security number, or account numbers in an unsolicited call. If the caller claims they’re from your bank, ask for the phone number, verify it online, and call back.
  • Add your number to the National Do-Not-Call Registry. Adding your number to the list will prohibit all unsolicited sales calls by law.

The best ways to prevent identity theft involve self-evaluation

When it comes to stopping identity theft, changing the way you handle sensitive personal information can make a big difference.

Of course, it’s almost impossible to completely insulate yourself from fraud in today’s digital world. But the best way to prevent identity theft starts with giving thieves less to work with.

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