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Identity Theft Protection: How to Keep Your Personal Information Safe

Identity theft collageHas your email ever been hacked, sending out random Viagra links to your contact list? Or maybe your twitter account was hacked in February 2013 like 250,000 other users. Well, with the vast technological advances that have come along in recent years, the world seems to be a much more efficient place; however, what is efficient for us as buyers is also efficient for thieves who prey on our dependence upon technology. While things may be much smoother for us as a nation with our instant online payments, our PayPal access, our Facebook accounts, and our online bill pay, things are increasingly risky for individuals when it comes to maintaining the security of our personal identities.

Our Dependence on Technology

Before there were computers and smart phones and tablets to do our bidding society relied upon the mail system as well as good old fashioned cash to pay their bills. Where many people would mail in checks others would simply take cash down to their electric company and pay their bill; however, in a nation that has now become dependent on electronic payments as much as it has become dependent on credit cards, the situation has changed considerably. It used to be that the biggest fear for consumers would be to have their checks stolen from their mailbox as they awaited mail pick up, or even that credit card statements would be stolen out of mailboxes after mail had been delivered. However, as time has progressed technological advances have made accessing personal information even more accessible. With a few lines of code and a little investigating computer hackers can now access just about any aspect of your personal life that they choose.

VIDEO: 6 Tips to Protect Your Identity Today

Technologically Savvy Thieves

In a matter of minutes thieves can obtain access not only to your credit card number, checking account number, address and full name but they can also get access to your social security number it can open up a whole new world of risk. With a social security number, a thief can open new accounts in your name as well as access records of current accounts, they can completely turn your life upside down in a matter of just a few days. The unfortunate aspect of this type of theft is that it is not just your money that is being taken and utilized without your consent but it is also your reputation and your personal life. As the thief runs up credit card bills, extends loans, makes purchases they cannot afford even on your credit, these debts all come back to one person; you. Even though you know that these charges were not made by you, proving that they were made by someone else and finding a way to stop the thief and get your name back is a long and tedious process that often times takes years to complete. During these years this thief continues to use your name and destroy your reputation leaving you to live among the rubble.

How to Prevent Personal Information Theft

So what can be done to prevent the theft of personal information in a day and age that is so reliant upon technology? Well just because technology has the ability to be accessed by thieves does not always mean that it will be.

Type URLs Directly Into Your Browser to Avoid Phishing Emails

One way to help to ensure your security when accessing and sharing personal information online is to always type a website name directly in to your browser. Many thieves obtain personal information by sending emails called “phishing” emails to email addresses that they locate online or purchase from an email list. Email lists can be sold by individuals who obtained your email address legally, even big companies have been known to sell their email lists so keep this in mind when you sign up for any news letters or updates online! Thieves utilize these email addresses to obtain personal information by sending generic emails from what appear to be official company websites. Often times these official companies can be places such as your personal bank, eBay or even your car loan or mortgage company.

These emails generally ask you to click a link and log in to verify your account information as part of a security system check. These emails often look professional and even contain the official logo of the institution that the thief is pretending to represent; however, there is one factor that can tip you off as to whether the email really comes from your financial institution or whether it comes from a thief. Without clicking on any links you can place your mouse over the link that you are being asked to click, the address of the website will appear in the corner of your screen. The website address that shows up may be familiar to that of your financial institution; however, it will contain small differences (or sometimes large differences) that will let you know that this is a phishing email.

Phishing emails are particularly abundant in today’s society and while you may wish to forward this phishing email to your financial institution, there is very little likelihood that they will be able to follow up on the case. Generally the best thing to do with these emails is to delete them and NEVER click the links within them. If you have questions as to whether the email is a phishing email and you can’t tell by holding your mouse over the links in the email you should go to your internet browser and type the website address of your financial institution directly or even call them to inquire as to whether they initiated the email or not.

Look for a Privacy Policy

Personal Information Protection Act

Whenever you utilize your email address to sign up for any newsletters or email updates you want to make sure that there is a privacy policy on the website that states that they will not utilize or sell your email address for anything other than the newsletter you have signed up for. Without a privacy policy such as this the organization is free to, and probably will, sell your personal information including your name and email address to anyone who is willing to pay for it which will result in a mass of spam email for you which can not only be irritating but it can also be dangerous when you start to get phishing emails as described above.

Know a Secure Site

When you go to log in to your personal information or even when you go to make a payment online you always want to check for a letter ‘S’ in the website address, so it should read “shttp” or “https” meaning that the website is considered “secure”, these websites also commonly feature an icon of a padlock in the right hand corner of the website. These features allow you to recognize that there is a security system in place on the website designed to protect the transfer of your personal information. Without these security features it is possible for other people (hackers included) to access your personal information while it is being transferred over the Internet.

Change Your Passwords Regularly & Make it Secure

This is a rather obvious tip, but make sure you are constantly changing your password. Try to use a variety of characters including numbers, letters, capital letters, and symbols. Passwords aren’t meant to be easy to guess so don’t use your pet’s name or the street you live on. It is suggested that you change your online passwords once every month in order to keep them dynamic and reduce the likelihood that someone will gain access to your personal information. Be sure to also change the password to your email address and Google and Facebook accounts because in a society where so much financial activity is performed online, access to an email address or an account you link to many other locations is almost as good as access to all of your financial information.

Limit Your Credit Card Limit for Online Purchases

Experts recommend that any online purchases are limited to a credit card which carries a small credit limit. The reason for confining Internet purchases to credit cards with small credit limits is due to the fact that credit cards are easily canceled and their fraudulent charges departments are generally well staffed and able to resolve conflicts quickly and neatly. Utilizing a credit card with a small credit limit to make online purchases also makes sure that if your personal information does become compromised only $xxx can be utilized by the thief.

Shred Your Mail

One prime example of giving thieves access to personal information is neglecting to shred personal mail. On any given day most people receive credit card offers, credit card statements or banking statements in the mail, these letters often contain enough information for a thief to gain access to your personal accounts without too much work. In order to prevent a thief from obtaining your financial information by simply going through your garbage bags you should consider investing in a good quality paper shredder. Any and all mail that contains personal information should first be put through a shredder before being thrown away; this includes credit card offers, bank statements and credit card statements.

Regularly Monitor Your Financial Statements

Another important key in protecting your personal information is to keep a close eye on banking statements and charges made with your credit card, check card or checks. Many people do not realize it but it is not only online purchases that give thieves the opportunity to steal your personal information. How many times do you and your family eat out at a restaurant each week? Do you know and trust the waiter or hostess who takes your credit card in to the back to pay your bill? Are you sure that they have not copied down your credit card information to utilize later or sell to a thief? It happens more often than people realize and rarely do people hesitate to hand over that credit card to the friendly waiter, waitress or hostess to pay their bill. That is not to say that you should not pay your bill but try to stick to the same tips given above for online purchasing when you are making purchases such as restaurant meals. Any time someone is walking away with your credit card there is the opportunity for them to steal your credit card information and run up debt in your name. Utilizing a low limit credit card will help you to limit any damage that is done by an identity thief who obtains your personal information in this way.

Securing Your Identity and Personal Information

Talking about identity theft and having personal information stolen is a scary thing and many people will come away from this article feeling like they should never make an online purchase again but this is not the aim of this article. The aim of this article is to make you aware of what is going on around you, to make you aware of what you are handing over to complete strangers and to give you some tips on how to prevent those strangers from taking advantage of your financial well-being.

There are many ways in which someone can collect your personal information from email collection to theft of bank statements and credit cards but the good news is that there are many options for you to protect your personal information as well. Even with these options in place many people feel much more secure by utilizing services that monitor credit reports and access of personal information. Some people find that using these paid services gives them not only an extra peace of mind when it comes to the privacy of their personal information but they also find that should someone gain access to their personal information that any fraudulent charges are reimbursed immediately. These services are certainly not mandatory and most people find that by implementing a few common sense techniques like those listed above, that their personal information remains secure, but for those who require a little extra peace of mind these services offer a little something extra.

Identity Theft Protection Service Reviews

There are many identity protection services available on the market. It can be overwhelming to sort through them all. Our team performed an in depth analysis and comparison of the leading identity theft protection services. Check it out to find out the pros and cons of each as well as the best services out there and why.

Be Heard

Comment below with your own privacy/ personal information/ identity theft experiences and fears and help us spread the word on the importance of personal information protection!

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3 responses to “Identity Theft Protection: How to Keep Your Personal Information Safe”

  1. LifeLock definitely has the advantage in terms of complete coverage for yourself and your children.  Prior victims of identity theft, as well as those with a lot of money or sensitive information, will probably want this protection, as well as those with children.  People in prominent positions where they might be recognized in public, as well as their children, also make special identity theft targets.  For whatever reason you may need it, this complete coverage is great if you have the money.  I liked the lost wallet coverage offering as well as the security and legal advocates, and the constant monitoring of various companies to see whether there is any unauthorized use of your personal and sensitive information.  The low cost for the basic plan is also a major bonus, since LifeLock seems to offer quite a lot for the price, and the thirty day trial period is definitely enticing, although hopefully within the thirty days there will still not be any fraudulent activity on my account.  Still, I find it interesting that the company does not issue fraud alerts.  It seems as though suspicious activity would trigger a fraud alert, or should anyway, so I am curious what the reasons are for that.

    ProtectMyID seems at first to be less good of a deal than LifeLock’s basic plan, considering that it is five dollars more per month and does not have many of the extra security features that LifeLock does.  That said, the fact that all three credit reporting agencies are monitored is a major bonus, especially if you are considering getting a mortgage to buy a home.  I also liked that they search black market internet sites for stolen information.  I was not aware that there were sites like this, so having the protection of a company that knows where these sites are and monitors them is an amazing bonus.  The family coverage that includes children is also a good service, and the policy of immediately correcting any fraudulent or suspicious activity seems like a major relief from the potential hassle that all of those things cause.  Thus, for the price, ProtectMyID does offer different services and some bonuses that LifeLock does not

    The fact that only Experian, one of the three major credit reporting bureaus, owns IdentityTruth means that the information touched upon is likely to be limited to only what information is reported to that agency, however, and will not include information reported to other credit reporting bureaus.

    Ultimately, this article provided me with a basic breakdown of the facts about each of these companies and what they provide, but you should probably get all of your additional questions answered before making a choice.  I recommend looking at the FAQ section in each company’s website, since the burning questions you might have are likely to be addressed there.  For me, I looked at LifeLock, ProtectMyID, and IDENTITY GUARD and compared what you get for the money as well as which company provided the services I valued most.  I think this is sound advice to anyone, because keeping your identity secure is an important decision.

  2. IDENTITY GUARD is the most expensive option of the three, and therefore, for me not likely to be the one that I end up signing up for.  It also does not provide family protection or credit monitoring for children, so I would still need to buy those services from another company if I wanted them.  I do like, however, the fact that they offer protection for your vehicle registration cards and loan or lease information.  Plus, I like that this service also monitors all three of your credit ratings, since an alert could be potentially posted on any one, and it also monitors black market web sites, the thought of which alone is enough to make me want an identity protection service.  The Mobile Lockbox and wallet protection also seem like solid assets to keeping your car information secure or preventing illicit use of your identity by someone else to purchase a vehicle.  Many times vehicles are used for criminal activity in these instances, which would make things even worse for you if your name was used to purchase the vehicle fraudulently.  The ID Vault USB stick seems like the best part of it, and is another unique feature of the service.  This would definitely calm some of my fears about having my information stolen off of my computer.  No matter how hard you try to protect your computer these days, it seems that clever thieves can find ways in, and that is a real fear, since new scams are coming up all the time.  The one million dollar guarantee and risk assessment is also very assuring that the service will do what is promised.  Therefore, if price were no object, I would probably use the IDENTITYGUARD service.

    IdentityTruth also is priced out of my range, but I appreciated some of the niche services they provide, since for some people these might be justify the cost.  The first one I liked was that they stop credit card companies from scanning your information and therefore junk mail with credit card offers also stops.  (This is also very environmentally-conscious, since all that paper will not be wasted on junk mail.)  I also liked the preventative features they have with the service, including the Identity Health Score.  This is a useful concept, since it helps you to pin-point exactly what you need to be doing in order to make your identity more secure and scam-proof.  Informing you of your information being passed from company to company is also very good for preventing an identity theft, and I like that they offer an extra step of forcing a company to re-verify your identity before an account can be opened in your name.  I often wonder about how many times companies sell or trade my information, and I think this is scary.  This service helps you control where your own information is going, which I like a lot.

  3. Arghh!  I pray that a solution to this is found quickly!

    I must say, I am quite surprised and somewhat alarmed by the information provided in this article.  I had no idea that children were now a major target for identity thieves, although that makes a lot of sense because children rarely monitor their credit reports.  Still, this really got me scared and alarmed.  I was also alarmed by the fact that it is already too late when you see fraudulent charges on your credit report.  I have heard stories of this taking days worth of paperwork and hassle trying to talk to the right people and companies to get the issue resolved, in addition to coming to court and other incredible hassles.  In two cases, friends of mine have had to fight credit card companies and businesses which sold thousands of dollars of goods to someone using a stolen identity.  Both times, neither one of them were even in the same state that the goods were purchased in and the identity of the purchaser was clearly not them, but both still had to fight the cases anyway.  Cases of identity theft are on the rise, and it seems like there are more and more ways that criminals are getting a hold of legitimate identities and using them to commit fraud.

    That said, using identity protection services can also be confusing, and without having been the victim of identity theft, it can seem like too much of a hassle.  It is a good thing that this article was put together to do a nice, unbiased comparison of the major identity protection services that are out there today.  Sometimes it is difficult to justify the price that you will have to shell out for the services initially, but the hassle and cost of having your identity stolen definitely makes these services pay for themselves.

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