Are You At Risk for Identity Theft?

Reading time: 5 minutes

 

Highlights:

  • You may have several habits that might raise your risk of identity theft
  • Here are some suggestions to help better protect your personal and financial information
  • It’s important to check your account details and credit reports regularly

Anyone can become a victim of identity theft, but you may not realize some of your habits may be increasing your risk. Here are some habits you may want to consider breaking to help better protect your personal information:

You repeat passwords …

… or you use easy-to-remember ones. If your passwords provide an easy opportunity for identity thieves, they can access your accounts, install malware on your computer and steal your information. Some hackers may use trial and error to guess your passwords, using details about your work or home life that can be found online. That’s why it’s important to use passwords that are hard to guess — especially on financial websites — and don’t reuse passwords on different accounts. Learn more about creating secure passwords on the Identity Theft Resource Center website

To keep track of your passwords, consider a password manager. These are websites or apps that store passwords for you, only requiring you to memorize a master password to access them. There are many different password managers. Do your research and ensure the one you pick is secure and double-blind (meaning the passwords are encrypted so app or site administrators can’t see or access them). Learn more about how you can evaluate your online practices and settings

Your financial information is easily accessible to others

Whether it’s your checkbook, credit card number or debit card PIN, or bank and other financial statements, this sensitive information should never be in an accessible location. (Don’t write your PIN on your card, for instance.) One of your best defenses is to cross-shred any written documentation of PINs for debit or credit cards or bank accounts. If you struggle with memorizing them, store the information in the same place as your passwords. Be especially careful with checkbooks. Each check has your name, routing number and bank account number on it, which is all anyone may need to electronically transfer money from your account. 

Consider the following suggestions to secure your financial information and documents:

  • Keep your checkbook, financial statements, along with birth certificates and any other important documents, at home in a locked drawer or lock box. 
  • Use checks only when absolutely necessary. 
  • Mail checks, passports, or any item with your financial or personal information on it in a security envelope with a pattern to mask the contents. Don’t leave the envelope in your mailbox or your office’s outgoing mail. Take it directly to the post office. You may also want to consider sending important documents by certified mail.

You carry your Social Security card in your wallet

Your Social Security number is a gateway to your identity and your credit information, which means it may be priceless to an identity thief wanting to establish credit in your name. Instead of carrying your Social Security card in your wallet, find a secure place for it, like a locked drawer or lockbox. Check the cards you carry with you (health insurance cards, for example) to ensure they don’t have your Social Security number on them. If they do, consider not carrying them unless you need them (a health insurance card for a doctor's appointment, for instance). 

You're not an email skeptic

Many “phishing” attempts and spam messages are blocked by email servers, but some may still manage to sneak through. Be careful not to click on embedded links or attachments in an email if you aren’t sure whether it’s legitimate. You can hover over the links to see where they go and if they look correct. Cyber thieves can also hack into your email account and intercept emails while they are being sent; don’t email passwords or other financial details to anyone, even yourself.

A few other safe practices around email: 

  • Be wary of any email that asks for financial information or has an urgent-sounding message. 
  • If you receive an email that threatens to disable an account or delay services until updated information is received, contact the company directly. Phishers use scare tactics to overwhelm their targets.
  • Hover over the sender email to see whether it looks legitimate. And read the email carefully for typos, misspellings, and poor grammar, which may indicate a phishing scam. Most legitimate companies take steps to ensure their emails are grammatically correct and there are no spelling mistakes.

Read more about cybersecurity myths and facts

You rarely review your financial statements

It’s a great idea to regularly review your financial statements and ensure every transaction listed is accurate before paying your bill. If you notice a charge you don’t remember making, contact the company immediately.

The same is true for bank account statements. Your liability for fraudulent debit card transactions may increase if they aren't reported within a specific time period, compared to credit cards. It's important to regularly review bank account details as well as monthly bank account and credit card statements to help detect signs of potential fraud.

You don’t regularly check your credit reports 

Identity thieves who have access to your personal information may open up new loans, rack up debt in your name and leave those debts unpaid. Regular monitoring of your credit reports is one way to help detect suspicious activity that may indicate fraud or identity theft. You’re entitled to one free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each of the three nationwide credit bureaus by visiting www.annualcreditreport.com. Here is a checklist to use when reviewing your Equifax credit report.

Making small changes to your everyday habits may help reduce the odds of becoming an identity theft victim. You can start by thinking of ways to better safeguard your personal information to help keep it out of the wrong hands.