Scammers are getting better than ever at finding ways to deceive people and get access to your personal financial data. This is especially prevalent at this time of year when everyone is filing their taxes and sending sensitive information back and forth. So with that in mind, we wanted to provide some tips for staying safe from identity theft.
- Be wary. Always be aware that there are people out there trying to steal your information, whether it is for their own nefarious purposes or to sell to others. So be suspicious of anyone asking for your information, particularly your social security number, even if they are someone you know. Ask what they will do with your SSN, and unless absolutely necessary, refuse to give it out. Even if their motives are pure, once they have your SSN, they may not be as careful as they need to be and their system can be hacked.
- Don’t carry your Social Security card. Another way thieves can get ahold of your Social Security data is through old school theft. You should only carry your card on you if you need it for a specific purpose, then when you have completed that task, put it back in a safe place. If you carry it with you all the time, a thief could find themselves in possession of something much more valuable than the money you have in your wallet, and you will lose something that can be very difficult to replace.
- Shred your documents. Don’t wad it up or tear it in half. You should completely destroy paperwork with any personal information by shredding it. If you don’t have a shredder or need to destroy a lot of old documents, there are services you can use or some banks or community centers offer free shredding services at specific times of the month too.
- Check your credit reports. All three of the major agencies (Equifax, TransUnion and Experian) are required to provide you a free copy of your full credit reporteach year; all you have to do is ask! Get in the habit of pulling copies of these reports on an annual basis and carefully review them. If you see anything that looks amiss, contact the agency and get it corrected.
- Double check suspicious correspondence. Every year, particularly during, and right after, tax season countless people fall for scams perpetrated by people claiming to be the IRS. To most people, the idea of the IRS contacting them is scary, and they let their guard down due to this fear. If you receive a letter or phone call that sounds even slightly suspicious, contact the IRS to determine if they have a genuine need to contact you by calling 1-800-829-1040. If it really is the IRS, they won’t mind you checking. You can learn more about this and what you can do if you are targeted at identitytheft.gov.
While this is no guarantee that you’ll be perfectly safe from identity thieves, it will make it a lot harder for them. Do what you can to protect your valuable information and hopefully you will never become a victim of an identity thief.