The answer seems obvious, but Bankrate reports that most Americans still engage in behavior that puts their information at risk.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, approximately 19 people fall victim to identity theft every minute. Everyone faces the risk of having their identity stolen, and the possibility increases dramatically during the holidays.
While it’s currently impossible to completely eliminate this threat, there are steps you can take to keep your information secure. In honor of December’s designation as Identity Theft and Prevention Awareness Month, here are five ways you can fend off identity theft this holiday season.
1. Monitor your credit regularly.
According to Bankrate, 42 percent of Americans do not monitor their credit report on a regular basis. While identity theft can take many forms, fraud often occurs when an unauthorized credit is opened. That’s why it’s important to check your credit reports frequently for unusual activity.
You can get one free report each year from the three credit companies (Equifax, Experian and Transunion). There are also services like myBankrate, which provides monthly credit reports and won’t cost a penny.
Some experts also recommend using credit freezes. This prevents potential creditors from viewing your credit report at all, so no one – not even you – can open a new line of credit in your name.
Freezes last indefinitely and the reversal process isn’t quick or easy. It costs to place the freeze – usually $30 for all three credit bureaus – but you also have to pay a fee to remove it. This security option can be a hassle for those who plan to apply for credit or need others to check their credit history.
2. Don’t use unsecured Wi-Fi networks.
Approximately 41% of Americans do their banking on unsecured Wi-Fi networks that do not require a password. This makes it easy for cybercriminals to steal your personal information. Whether you’re on your phone, tablet or laptop, always ensure you are making transactions on private, password-protected Wi-Fi networks you can trust.
3. Beware of phishing.
Phishing scams are a common way for cybercriminals to steal your personal information. These scams entail someone posing as a legitimate company that you trust. Be vigilant – especially during the holidays – by making sure you do not click on links in an email that ask you for personal information. Always double-check who is sending the email, and if in doubt of its legitimacy, verify the information request directly with the company.
4. Shred your documents.
Make sure that you are not throwing away mailers, paperwork or files with personal information. Anything that contains account numbers, banking information, social security numbers and related personal details should be shredded, not thrown in the garbage.