Nobody wants to have criminals steal money from their bank accounts or take out credit cards in their name to use for fraudulent purchases. That being said, many people don't take even basic steps to make sure that doesn't happen.
It might be because you're so busy with a million other things you don't even think about it. If that sounds like you, you need to start thinking about it before the worst happens. Trust us, it's much better to spend an extra minute on prevention than months or years of headaches trying to unravel the damage done by an identity thief.
That's why we're going to share with you five things you're doing right now that are putting your information at risk, and the simple ways you can change what you're doing to improve your security. And, because we talk about it a lot elsewhere, not a single one of these has to do with your online account password. Instead, we're going to start with another kind of password.
1. Writing your PIN on your debit cards
We understand that with everything there is to remember in daily life, everyone needs a little memory jog sometimes. However, writing your PIN on your debit cards isn't the way to do it.
If a thief, or anyone really, gets a hold of your card, there's nothing to stop them from making a cash withdrawal from your account at the next available ATM. They have all the information they need.
The same goes for writing your PIN on a piece of paper and sticking it in your wallet. Anyone who steals your wallet has everything they need.
As a rule, you never want your PIN and your card in the same place at the same time, unless the PIN is in your head. Even then, you have to watch your hands because a thief could still steal the PIN with a skimmer. Learn how to spot and avoid this huge danger.
If you really do have trouble remembering your PIN, try a service like Apple Pay or Android Pay that lets you authorize payment on your phone with a thumbprint. In a pinch, you could store the PIN in your phone behind a lock screen. At least the odds of a thief getting both at once, and being able to unlock your phone, aren't good.
2. Not monitoring your bank statements enough
You get a bank statement every month, but how closely do you really look at it? Maybe you've even stopped paper statements and just glance at it online every now and then.
Unfortunately, if a thief has your credit card information, they could be making online purchases and the only way to know is noticing something out of the ordinary on your statement. So, paying attention to each purchase can help you spot something wrong and notify your bank before it goes too far.
3. Not shredding your monthly mail/bank statements
If you're still getting a paper statement, what do you do when you're done with it? If the answer is "throw it out," then we need to talk.
There are plenty of identity thieves whose idea of a good time is rooting around in trash looking for personal information. They would love to get a bank statement that includes your name, bank account number and general purchase history. Using that information, they can easily call up the bank and get full access to your account.
Before you throw out any piece of paper that has identifying information on it, make sure it's thoroughly shredded.
4. Not shredding pre-approved credit cards
You know the routine; you get a letter in the mail saying you've been pre-approved for a silver/gold/black/platinum/molybdenum credit card with 0 percent APR for the rest of recorded history. If you're like most people, you throw it right in the trash.
Hang on, though. Remember those dumpster-diving thieves from earlier? Yeah, they love pre-approved credit cards, too. They can easily activate it in your name and go to town, and the only way you'd know is illustrated in the next item we're going to talk about. That's why before you throw out a pre-approved credit card, you need to shred it.
5. Not requesting/reviewing your credit report enough
Just like you need to keep a close eye on your bank statement, you need to run regular checks on your credit report. This is what records any attempts to get credit, whether it's a mortgage, car loan, credit card application, and so forth.
If you spot a source of credit you don't know about, such as a credit card, it's likely that a thief has your information, or dug a pre-approved card out of your trash, and is using it. You can then take steps to close down the card and get your credit report corrected.