The things you do every day — from swiping a debit card to simply using your smartphone — can increase your exposure to scammers, and that can make you more vulnerable to identity theft.
You may not realize all of the ways you are exposing your personal information to criminals 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 be cautious when clicking on an email from an address you don’t recognize. If you receive an email from your bank or another company that has your personal information, don’t click on it. It could be a scam.
Instead, you should 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 phone from a number you don’t recognize, don’t call back.
2. Throw Away Documents With Personal Information
Don’t just toss out documents that have your personal information on them. Buy a paper shredder. Shred any documents listing your Social Security number or financial information such as your bank account numbers and credit card numbers. This can go a long way toward preventing identity theft (along with freezing your credit)!
3. Use Easy-to-Hack Passwords
Make sure your passwords are strong and unique for every account you access online. And 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.
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 — every 12 months. This guide can help you access your free credit report.
5. 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. Read more about the risks of using debit cards here.
6. Give Out Your Social Security Number
Companies and institutions ask for our Social Security numbers all the time. Unfortunately, they do a mediocre job of securing the numbers, and some industries are worse than others. Here are the 10 worst places to give your Social Security number.
7. Fail to Check Your Bank Account on a Daily Basis
Checking your bank statements daily not only helps you keep up with your purchases and current balance but also gives you an opportunity to check for transactions that don’t look familiar. Here’s more on why you should be checking every day.
8. 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, always make sure to completely log out of every website and out of 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.
9. 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!
10. 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.
11. 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 protection than a debit card.
If a criminal steals your debit card information, your bank account could be emptied before you even realize anything was stolen.
12. Fail to Freeze and Monitor and Your Credit
The best way to protect yourself from identity theft is by freezing your credit.
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 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.
Even with your credit frozen, you’ll still want to keep an eye on your credit reports and scores. That’s why money expert Clark Howard says that before you freeze your credit you should sign up for free credit monitoring with Credit Karma or Credit Sesame. Sign up for these free tools to monitor your credit going forward to make sure your credit freeze is working as it should.