Is your identity at risk? These days your identity is everything. Your identity is anything that holds valuable information about you. It could be your wallet, smartphone, computer, credit cards, tax return, job application – it could even be your trash and discarded mail.
The point is that your identity is everywhere and what’s worse, it’s easy for people to get a hold of if they want it. In this article you are going to learn about 7 ways you may be vulnerable to identity theft.
Restaurants and Credit Cards
When it comes to identity theft, one place that is the most vulnerable is restaurants. In most of these establishments, it’s pretty common for waiters to process your credit card away from you, and this means giving up your credit card to a complete stranger for a period of 5 minutes or more.
Even scarier is that people willingly do this without the thought that this person may not be a very trustworthy individual. In fact, these people could be doing everything from writing your number down to using more advanced tactics such as skimming. Skimming is where someone has a small device, usually hand held, and all they have to do is scan your card and they have all of your information.
Be Careful While Waiting in Lines
There are also more old school ways scammers can get a hold of your personal information as well, and one is by using a technique called “shoulder surfing”. This is the process of looking over someone’s shoulder and reading their personal information. This is a common technique used in checkout lines at grocery stores, malls, movie theaters, and anywhere else you may wait in a line to pay at the register.
In fact, a few years ago, a family member of mine had their identity stolen this way and about a half hour later received a phone call from their credit card company telling them that there was some suspicious activity going on with their card.
Monitor Your Mail
Another way scammers are stealing your identity is by going through your mail, though some scammers are taking this to a whole new level. Once they’ve stolen your personal info such as your social security number, they can easily open up credit cards or take out payday loans in your name, leaving you with all the bills to pay in the end.
Don’t Put Gold In Your Trash
Your trash is yet another place criminals will look for identity theft. Criminals can use all kinds of things in your trash to steal your identity, from the last 4 digits of your social security number left on a receipt to credit card offers that you threw away.
To the rest of us, trash is junk, but to the scammers and criminals, it’s pure financial gold. When it comes to criminals dumpster diving, you can’t take enough precaution to protecting your identity. Cut up credit cards into 15 different pieces and dispose of the shards in different trash cans. Every family should also invest in a commercial grade shredder, which may cost you $100, but in the long-term, will save you thousands.
Beware of Email
Email is the number one way people get scammed on the internet these days. Often time’s people will send fake emails claiming to be from companies like PayPal, credit card companies, and even your local bank telling you that you need to confirm your bank information. There have even been emails claiming to be from the IRS in regards to your tax refund check.
These emails will typically sound very convincing and have a link to a fake website that looks almost identical to the legitimate site. Their goal is to get you to input your information like bank account and password.
Phone Calls Are A Scammers Best Friend
Scammers will also use your phone in the same way as well. Calling you and giving you some bogus story that someone was trying to hack your bank account and that you need to confirm with them that you are the real owner of the account.
Again, they will sound professional and courteous, but the reality is your bank or any other business for that matter will never contact you to confirm these important details over the phone. Customer service representatives will also never ask you for your password or login information. Keep this in mind when speaking with anyone over the phone.
Lock Your Electronic Devices
Finally, hackers and identity thieves are always looking to steal sensitive data off of electronic devices. From your iPad, iPhone, laptop or an open Wi-Fi network, password-protect everything to avoid issues if your property is lost or stolen.
What You Can Do To Protect Yourself
Now that we know several of the ways people can hack your identity, you might be wondering what you could do to help prevent these incidents from happening to you.
- Use Common Sense. Criminals are lurking in the most common places and whenever it comes to handing out a piece of your identity, don’t give it to them willingly. If a situation just doesn’t make sense or sounds questionable, don’t be afraid to walk away or question it. Just because someone looks like an “authority”, doesn’t mean they are who they say they are.
- Monitor Your Stuff. Monitor your credit, credit card statements, bank accounts, and mail. Some criminals are not easy to catch, and that’s why it’s important to review your credit card statements and reports regularly. If there is something out of the ordinary, contact the appropriate company immediately before things get any worse.
- Consider Identity Theft Protection. To catch these criminals faster, it may be wise to have some sort of identity theft protection such as LifeLock or Trusted ID. However, one big question I often hear is: “Is LifeLock worth it?” The same can be asked for any identity theft protection service, but what’s great about LifeLock is that they will inform you the moment someone is messing with your identity. Early notification and action is the best way to avoid extended damage to your credit and history.
When it comes down to it, your identity is at risk every single day. You just have to decide the level of risk you are willing to take and the precautions you can take to protect yourself.
In most cases, it just takes a little common sense and monitoring to prevent 90% of all identity thefts. It’s that 10% you have no control over, so evaluate each of your own vulnerable areas and put a plan in place to protect your identity going forward.
This article was written by Chris Holdheide, a personal finance blogger with Stumble Forward, a blog about helping consumers avoid financial mistakes and live better lives.