Identity Theft Protection: How to Keep Your Personal Information Safe

Identity theft word cloud

Has 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

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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

Privacy highlighted in the dictionary

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!