A quick Google search for “identity theft” returns nearly 67,000,000 results and counting. (Seriously.) It’s a real, growing threat—and it can happen to anyone.
That’s because everyone has a digital footprint. Product purchases, internet search histories, and emails are all part of a massive networking infrastructure that’s rapidly expanding. Information about anything (or anyone), including sensitive information, can be accessed at any time.
It’s a data-driven world. And in the information age, consumers crave more customized content. Tailored advertisements cut through the white noise to deliver relevant content, enabling quick and easy purchasing decisions. That’s how data works for us. But making personal data available can work against us, too, if it falls into the wrong hands.
In 2015, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission received over 490,000 consumer complaints about identity theft, a 47% spike from the previous year. And the Department of Justice estimates that 17.6 million Americans were victims of identity theft in 2014.
There’s no way to completely eliminate the risk of identity theft. But being smart about securing your private information can help limit your chances.
- Scrap any material from social network profiles that identity thieves can use. Remove exact birth dates, mailing addresses, and phone numbers from social networking profiles on websites like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. Make sure privacy settings are set to the highest level possible on each platform to restrict strangers’ access. And steer clear of friend requests from people you don’t know.
- Safeguard computers and devices from viruses and malware. Identity thieves can use malware to swipe private information straight from your hard drive. Keep systems up to date with regular security patches, and install antivirus software to protect against existing vulnerabilities and detect new attacks in real time.
- Shred sensitive financial documents. Identity thieves’ efforts to snatch private information extend beyond the web. Don’t just ditch old hard copy financial records in the recycle bin. Take the extra step by running any document with sensitive information through a shredder before tossing it.
- Strengthen online passwords—use more complexity. Create strong, multi-character passwords for all online accounts, including email and bill payment websites. The more complicated it is to figure out, the better. And each site’s password should be different. Consider using a secure password manager to keep them organized.
- Scan online bank and credit account statements daily. Keep an eye on small-but-suspicious transactions on checking and credit statements. Identity thieves might test the waters with some trivial purchases before going big. Flagging these as soon as possible can stop the situation before it escalates.
Victims of identity theft have options. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has a website with free tools, recovery plans, and help to alert police and credit agencies when your identity has been compromised.
Looking for more tips for better credit and money management? Check out more of Comenity’s financial resources.