Picture this: You're huddled over your computer, hours on the phone trying to straighten out the huge financial mess that happened when someone stole your identity. It doesn't have to be that way. You may be able to save yourself the hassle by taking these steps to avoid identity theft:
- Monitor your credit. You're eligible for a free credit report annually from each of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Order yours online at AnnualCreditReport.com or by calling 877-322-8228.
- Put an active-duty alert on your credit report. If you're a deploying service member and don't plan to seek new credit while deployed, an active-duty alert will require creditors to take steps to verify your identity before granting credit in your name. For more information, visit the Federal Trade Commission Active-Duty Alert page.
- Keep your purse or wallet secure. Never leave it in the car, and keep your wallet or purse in a locked drawer or other safe place at work.
- Limit what you carry. Take only what you need when you go out. Leave your Social Security card at home and don't carry more credit cards than you really need.
- Ask before sharing. If a business or other organization asks for personal information, ask why they need it, how they will safeguard it and what will happen if you choose not to share.
- Shred receipts, credit offers, credit card statements, military records and other papers with identifying information.
It's also important to safeguard your personal information when you're online:
- Don't give out personal information online (or over the phone, for that matter) unless you initiated the contact.
- Install anti-virus, anti-spyware software on all your devices. Update these protections regularly.
- Delete all of your personal information on your computers, phones or other devices when you get rid of them. Read the owner's manual or check with the service provider for the best ways to do that.
- Shop on sites that use secure technology. This will help keep your credit card information from falling into the wrong hands.
- Keep your passwords private. Also, be sure you use strong passwords (combinations of numbers, letters and symbols) on your laptop and other devices, as well as on your banking and credit card accounts.
- Don't overshare on social media. Too much information can make it easy for thieves to answer security questions on your accounts. Never post your full name, Social Security number, address, phone number or account numbers on social media or other publicly accessible sites.
- Don't open phishing emails. Opening a file from someone you don't know could expose your computer to a virus meant to capture your passwords and other personal information stored on your computer.
- Know your Wi-Fi. Try to avoid sending private information on a public wireless network.
Millions of people have their identities stolen every year, and repairing the damage can cost in terms of time, money and piece of mind. Take these steps now to help keep your financial information from falling into the wrong hands. You can also check out Military OneSource for more information about financial fraud and identity theft.