The Bottom Line: Identity Theft is on the rise. How do you protect yourself?

Identity theft has been on the rise in recent years, and it’s important to take steps to prevent thieves from stealing your identity, money, and valuable time. There are many ways for thieves to steal your personal and sensitive information. Phishing scams via e-mail and phone have been common. Identity thieves may call claiming to be your financial institution, doctor’s office, the IRS, or another organization you trust, and they are known to be very convincing. Typically, they claim that they’re calling simply to update or verify sensitive information, and other times they’ll threaten to take some kind of legal action if you don’t make an immediate payment via a wire transfer or credit card. But don’t worry – there are steps you can take to protect your identity!

Identity thieves aren’t afraid to get down and dirty. There’s the dumpster divers, thieves looking for your private documents and your junk mail. Anything with your name and an address attached. An old pay stub, a discarded credit card offer, anything with your personal information on it. Always shred your documents and mail before throwing away.

In public, identity thieves try to obtain a stranger’s PINs, passwords, and other private numbers and information simply by watching over your shoulder as you enter them, or listening in on a phone call you’re having in public. Changing your passwords frequently is also a good measure to take for account protection. Always be aware of your surroundings, cover your PIN when entering, and keep calls private when discussing personal information.

While spending your hard-earned cash is one way identity thieves can leave you in bad shape, they can also ruin your credit score. This could impact your ability to purchase or rent a home or vehicle, and make it more difficult – or even impossible – to obtain a new financial account, job, passport, and more. Frequently check your credit report (free with www.creditkarma.com), and review your financial statements and accounts so you can catch any unauthorized or suspicious charges or activity as quickly as possible.

If you suspect you’ve been a victim of identity theft, take immediate action. Contact your financial institution, file a police report, and put a hold on any cards that were stolen or accounts that you believe may be at risk.

 

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