Did you know that identity theft is one of the fastest-growing crimes in the U.S.? It’s true.
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), as many as 9 million Americans have their identities stolen every year. While an image of a hacker wearing a hoodie probably comes to mind when you think of identity thieves, that’s not always the case.
Sometimes, identity theft happens right under your nose. You might be shocked to find out that thousands of identity theft cases each year are actually committed by family members, friends and coworkers.
Statistics don’t lie. Javelin reported that in 2018, one out of every six identity theft victims were familiar with the person who committed the crime.
It’s sad but true. And sometimes these crimes are just a matter of opportunity for the thieves. People may leave documents lying around unsecured, or information is stored with no security plan in place. It’s only a matter of time before someone jumps on the chance to rip you off.
Don’t let this happen to you. Here are some suggestions you can put in place to protect your identity at home.
1. Keep critical documents on lockdown
The most important security precaution that you can take is to keep all of your important documents locked away. Here are some critical documents that you need to protect:
- Birth certificates
- Social Security cards
- Tax documents
- Pay stubs
- Medical paperwork
You might also want to secure other documents that have personal information other than your name, address and birth date.
Keeping these documents in one centralized and secure location gives you two benefits: First, it makes it easy for you to access them, and secondly, and more importantly, it makes it difficult (if not impossible) for anyone else to get their hands on them. A small safe or a filing cabinet with a good lock should suffice.
2. Don’t just put documents into the trash
Throwing important documents into the trash is simply not enough to protect your identity. Receipts, pay stubs, medical bills and tax documents all have information that identity thieves are looking for.
Any time you want to clean up and get rid of old documents like these, don’t just toss them into the garbage. Instead, you should have a reliable paper shredder on hand and put it to good use. You can even destroy old credit and debit cards with most shredders these days.
3. Your wallet isn’t safe storage
Try to think like a criminal for a minute. Where is the first place you would look for personal information that would help you steal someone’s identity?
The answer is simple: A wallet or purse.
If you are always carrying around your Social Security card in your wallet or purse, you’re a sitting duck when it comes to identity theft. Even if the crook was just looking to steal your cash, if they get ahold of your Social Security Number (SSN) it opens the floodgates to consequences that could haunt you for years to come.
Even worse, as you probably know, your Social Security Number isn’t something that can be replaced like a credit card. Once your SSN falls into the wrong hands, they have it for life.
With a little research, the thief can get your full name and address and start opening up bank accounts and ruining your credit. The best place to keep your entire family’s Social Security cards is in that safe or locked filing cabinet we spoke of earlier.
4. Securing mail is critical
Your mail can be a goldmine for identity thieves. No, we’re not talking about email. We’re talking about good old fashioned snail-mail.
Thieves will go through your trash searching for mail that contains the personal information they need to steal your identity, which is one reason the shredder we talked about earlier is a great precaution.
However, dumpster diving isn’t the only way they can steal your mail. Some criminals are gutsy enough to walk right up to your mailbox and take whatever is inside. The good news is there are some things you can do to stop them.
First, whenever it’s possible, sign up for e-statements and electronic billing. That way your sensitive information won’t be sitting exposed in the mailbox outside your house. Things like bills, bank statements and doctor appointments can be sent to your email, which can be protected with digital security measures.
The next thing you can do is be consistent about picking up your snail-mail. If you know important mail is coming, make sure to keep an eye on your mailbox and pick it up ASAP. This is especially critical around tax season, when important financial documents are expected to be delivered.
5. Protect your home Wi-Fi
It’s very important to protect your home Wi-Fi network. This might seem obvious but you’d be surprised how many people never change the default passwords that come with their modem or router. That’s crazy!
If a snoop is able to get onto your network, they could easily steal sensitive data being sent online. There is a technique that crooks use called “packet sniffing.” It allows someone to intercept information being transmitted over a wireless connection.
Think about everything that you do online. Check your bank accounts, pay bills, file taxes. Imagine any of this information being stolen, what a nightmare!
That’s why it’s critical to have a super-strong password protecting your Wi-Fi network. If you struggle coming up with hard-to-crack passwords, tap or click here to learn how to create strong passwords that will help keep your network safe.