7 Tips to Avoid Identity Theft

In the wake of the Target security breach, we could all use a reminder on how to keep our personal info safe to avoid identity theft.

Last month, like 40 million other Target shoppers, my credit card info was compromised. Was I surprised? Eh, mildly, but unfortunately, that’s just the world we live in. So, rather than get angry at Target or develop a cash-only lifestyle, I’d rather do my best to mitigate the damage and protect myself from identity theft.

Working for an online company (one that takes privacy and security very seriously), I’ve picked up a few precautionary tips on how to safeguard my personal information. Here’s what I’ve learned.

Ask questions

It seems like everyone and their mother wants your phone number, email, and social security number these days. But why? The more people who have your deets, the more susceptible that info is to being sold, shared, or hacked. Only share your info if you trust the website or if you initiated the call.

Before you blindly hand out your digits, ask why they’re needed and determine for yourself whether it’s actually necessary. In many cases, it’s not.

Be vigilant about identity theft

There’s not much you could’ve done ahead of time to prevent what happened with Target. But that doesn’t mean you need to remain a victim.

Check your bank statements regularly and call your bank immediately if you notice erroneous charges. Most banks require that you report the incident within 60 days, so if you want your money back, it pays to be diligent.

In my case, even though I didn’t see illicit charges on my account, I decided to cancel my card anyway. Some may call this paranoid, but I prefer the word “cautious.” With news that these card numbers are being sold online, there’s a chance that charges could’ve shown up much later. And if some creep tries to use my info, I want them to be DENIED.

Set up a credit alert

If a company has a security breach, they’ll often provide a free credit alert service for up to a year. You can also be proactive and set up your own fraud alerts through any one of these major credit bureaus: Equifax, Transunion, or Experian. Though the service isn’t free, it can be worth the peace of mind knowing someone is keeping an eye out for you.

If you believe you’ve been the victim of identity theft, you can also contact one of these companies and they’ll alert the other 2 on your behalf.

Use tricky security questions

Sure, a strong password’s important. But hackers are also getting savvier about circumventing this obstacle. If someone gets your username and clicks “forgot my password,” a simple Google search may help them answer your security questions.

As an experiment, I searched, “What city was Jessica Guerin born in?” and there it was in an Esurance blog post that showed up on page one of the search results. Needless to say, I use slightly less obvious questions (and usernames) when setting up accounts.

A side note about passwords: don’t use the same one for every account. Imagine if a hacker got a hold of it — that’s instant access to everything!

Don’t overshare

We hear this tip a lot. But it’s for good reason. When you talk about yourself online, that information becomes vulnerable to hackers. Not only can they use it to steal your identity, but they can also use it to plan a robbery. If you blast your vacation plans all over social media, thieves know exactly when you’ll be out of the house. And that can make you a target.

Likewise, be selective about who can see your profiles. Set your privacy restrictions to “friends only” and be picky about who those friends are.

Keep your guard up

Hackers may be savvier, but that doesn’t mean they’ve abandoned their old tactics. Phishing emails, unsecure sites, malware — they’re still out there. That means your antivirus software, operating system, and browsers should be up to date at all times.

While it’s become increasingly common for companies to email their customers (Esurance included), they shouldn’t solicit personal information. So stay alert and call the company — using a trusted phone number, not the one in the email — if their request seems questionable.

And that friend who’s stranded in London with no money or passport? Give them a quick ring before wiring the cash. They may very well be safe and sound at home. Same with the friend who sends you a link to an “awesome” video. Text your friend and double-check that their account hasn’t been hacked before clicking on the link.

Be selective when you shop

There are some bad eggs out there, but that doesn’t mean you need to live off the grid to keep yourself safe. It does, however, mean you should be selective when choosing who to do business with. When you’re shopping online, make sure the site is secure by looking for a lock icon and “https” in the web address.

If you’re shopping for insurance, you can rest assured Esurance has your back. As a company born online, we’ve taken privacy and security seriously from the start. How do we do it? That’s for our tech nerds to know … and the hackers not to find out.

Have any other security tips? Let us know in the comments section below.

Related link

Get in-depth online security tips from staysafeonline.org.
Get 3 tips for keeping hackers at bay.

2 Responses to “7 Tips to Avoid Identity Theft”

  1. Dot Beveridge
    January 13, 2014 #

    Good article. Thanks for the info.

  2. Avoiding Identity Theft
    February 4, 2014 #

    Great post! This has become a rather relevant topic for me as of late. Thanks for the info!

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