Getting your identity stolen can best be described as a living nightmare. If you want to avoid hours spent tracking down your personal information -- and the possibility of a drained bank account -- there are a few simple safety habits you can adopt in your day-to-day life.
According to financial crimes specialist Ben Knieff of Outside Look Inc., one of the most powerful tools for identity thieves is social networks. "Many, including Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+, offer options to view your profile as the public or as friends would see it," he says. "You should check that there is as little information open to the public as possible for long lost friends and business contacts to reach you."
Another tool criminals are using is adding people as friends on networks like Facebook, notes Knieff. They may send you invites that look fairly reasonable, such as, "Hi, we met at the party on Saturday, and I wanted to stay in touch." If you don't specifically remember someone, though, don't friend them, he warns. "Related to this, make sure your 'friends of friends' setting is locked down. You never know if your own friends will follow this rule, and if not, who they could expose you to."
Sure, passwords can be a pain in the butt to change, but Jason Bushey of Credit.net says it's crucial to keep identity thieves guessing when it comes to your important online accounts. "Never use the same password for all of your accounts, or even variations of that same password," he urges. "Allowing an online hacker to get into just one of your accounts, rather than all of them, at the very least minimizes the damage that can be done to your online identity."
"If you carry more than one debit or credit card in your purse or wallet (most people do), you're asking for trouble," says Tulsa-based financial advisor Tyler Gray. "Try to only take what you think you might need when you go out and about. Headed to Starbucks? Just bring enough cash to cover your coffee. Headed to Target? Take your Target card and leave the eight other department store cards at home."
Seriously, guard your plastic like a hawk! Someone standing behind you in line can take a picture of your credit card, make a copy of it and use it without your knowledge, cautions Harrine Freeman, CEO/owner of H.E. Freeman Enterprises.
Always look for the padlock in the lower right-hand corner of your screen, ensuring it's closed and locked, which shows the site is secure, recommends Robert D. Sollars, president of Sollars Security Shield. "Also, never follow a link to a shopping site you haven't visited before. Type in the address, and if it looks funny, trust your instinct!"
Updated by Bethany Ramos on 2/4/2016
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