There’s a new victim of identity fraud every two seconds, according to a study by Javelin Strategy & Research. And the things you do every day — from swiping a debit card to simply using a smartphone — can cause you to be more exposed and vulnerable to scammers, and ultimately, identity theft.
You may not even realize all of the ways you are exposing your personal information to criminals — and making yourself more vulnerable to theft — on a daily basis. Here are some ways you may be opening yourself up to fraud — and how to avoid it.
You could expose yourself to fraud every time you…
1. Click a link in an email, pick up the phone or respond to a text.
Scammers are everywhere, so it’s crucial to always be cautious when clicking on an email from an address you don’t know or recognize. If you receive an email from your bank or other company that has your personal information, don’t click on it. It could be a scam. Instead, log in to your account separately to check for any new notices. You can also call the company about the information sent via email. Responding to a text from a number you don’t recognize could also make any information stored in your phone vulnerable to hackers. And if you get a missed call on your cell phone from a number you don’t recognize, don’t call it back. Here’s what you need to know about this phone scam.
2. Throw away documents with personal information.
Don’t just toss out documents that have any of your personal information on them. Buy a paper shredder. Shred any documents listing your Social Security number and other financial information, such as your bank account numbers and credit card numbers. This is the number one way of preventing identity theft. Here’s a list of which documents you should keep and which ones you should get rid of.
3. Use easy-to-hack passwords.
Make sure your passwords are strong and unique for every account you access online. NEVER use the same password for your banking information that you use for any other site! Use a personal system that’s easy for you to remember — but will help keep your accounts secure. Here are some ways to store your passwords — and keep them safe.
4. Fail to check your credit report
All Americans are entitled to one free credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — upon request every 12 months. Here’s why you need to check your credit score and report.
RELATED: Clark’s Identity Theft Guide
5. Carry a check book around with you.
Don’t do it — pay with cash or credit instead.
6. Swipe your debit card.
Debit cards carry a lot of hidden dangers, so if you have one, make sure you are aware of those risks. Here are 11 places you should never use a debit card.
7. Give out your Social Security number.
Companies and institutions ask for our Social Security numbers like they’re handing out a piece of candy. Unfortunately, they do a mediocre to terrible job of securing the number, depending on the industry. Identity theft at doctor’s offices, hospitals, and other medical providers, as well as at universities, is booming. Here are the 10 worst places to give your Social Security number and how to prevent identity theft at medical offices.
8. Fail to check your bank account on a daily basis.
Checking your bank statements daily not only allows you to keep up with your purchases and current balance, but also allows you to check for any transactions that don’t look familiar. Here’s more on why you should be checking every day.
9. Use a free, public Wi-Fi network.
Scammers can easily steal your information when you’re using an unsecured network. If you use a public computer, make sure to always completely log out of every website and the computer itself. When it comes to using free Wi-Fi networks, never sign in to any of your accounts that contain sensitive personal information, such as your bank account or any account that contains your bank, debit or credit card information. Here are more tips to protect yourself from scammers on public Wi-Fi.
10. Forget to check your medical bills.
If you don’t check your medical bills, you could be paying fees for things you shouldn’t have been charged for! Here’s what to look out for and how to avoid those extra charges.
11. Fail to secure your devices (smartphone, tablet, laptop).
Secure your smartphone, tablet and laptop with a unique password. And if your devices are set to connect to Wi-Fi automatically, be cautious of the information stored in each gadget, because if scammers can get to it, they will.
12. Shop online.
If you shop online a lot, make sure to do some research on the site you’re purchasing from and always use a credit card. If something goes wrong, a credit card offers a lot more protections than a debit card.
If a criminal steals your debit card info, your bank account could be emptied before you even realize the info was stolen.
13. Fail to freeze and monitor and your credit reports.
The best way to protect yourself from identity theft is by freezing your credit reports.
A credit freeze seals your credit reports and provides a personal identification number (PIN) that only you know and can use to temporarily “thaw” your credit when legitimate applications for credit and services need to be processed (if you apply for a loan, new credit card etc.). So even if criminals get their hands on your info and try to use it to open new accounts in your name, they can’t.
A credit freeze allows you to seal your credit reports so no new applications for credit can be initiated in your name without your knowledge. Freezing your credit files has no impact whatsoever on your existing lines of credit, such as credit cards. You can continue to use them as you regularly would even when your credit is frozen. Here’s more on how and why you should freeze your credit.
But once you freeze your credit reports, you still need to monitor your credit and all of your existing accounts for any potential signs of fraud. When your credit is frozen, your existing accounts remain open, which means criminals who get access to your info can carry out fraud against your existing accounts — like your checking account or credit card.
Credit monitoring essentially puts fraud alerts on your credit files with the 3 main credit bureaus. These alerts are meant to raise a flag to potential creditors, alerting them to carefully verify an applicant’s identity before extending credit. You can get free credit monitoring through CreditKarma.com.