With the rapid growth of technology prompting consumers to embrace online and mobile banking, shopping, and other activity that involves personally identifiable information, identity theft and fraud has consistently grown over the past few years.
Credit card data theft increased 50% from 2005 to 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, and the Federal Trade Commission estimates that 9 million Americans (about 3% of the population) suffer some level of identity theft each year. To ensure you're not part of the statistic, ask yourself these basic security questions that can help you protect your identity.
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Is your online information secure?
When you're online shopping, make sure that your browser displays a lock icon (often in the lower right corner, but it can vary by browser) and that the "http" has an "s" on the end of it. These two factors indicate that the website is secure. Try to always use credit cards instead of debit cards, which can often be harder to adjust when it comes to issues of fraud. After you've made your purchase, clear your cache and website data so that your credit card information isn't saved.
Are you aware of the status of your financial accounts?
Regularly track all of your financial accounts so you're aware of any fraudulent charges. Your credit card companies and banks will usually alert you when there seems to be a suspicious charge, but it's smart to still check frequently in the event that your financial institution isn't able to alert you immediately or doesn't notice the error.
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Do you regularly monitor your credit report?
Check your credit report once a year to ensure there are no errors or issues of fraud. Doing so will not only help you protect your identity, but it will also help you avoid an unnecessary drop in your credit score.
Are you smart about choosing passwords?
As irritating as it might be to create passwords you may not be able to remember, choosing complicated passwords means that hackers won't be able to figure them out. Mix up letters, numbers, and symbols to create secure, complex passwords, and avoid kids' names, pets' names, birthdays, or anything else that may be easily guessable.
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Are you wary of handing out your Social Security number?
Your Social Security number is the true key to your identity, and it's probably already found a home with your doctor, lawyer, health-insurance company, or accountant. Sometimes giving it out is absolutely necessary. But if a business ever asks you to provide your Social Security number and you don't feel comfortable doing so, ask if you can provide a different ID number instead, such as a driver's license number.
Do you keep outdated sensitive documents lying around?
Avoid keeping bills, statements, medical documents, and other sensitive documents lying around, especially if you don't need them. There are two easy solutions. First, make sure to shred anything you don't need. Second, consider transitioning to a more paperless lifestyle by managing your bills and accounts electronically using a bill and account management service, such as Manilla.com.
Have you stored backup copies of your card info, usernames, and passwords?
In the event that your credit cards are stolen or you lose access to your stored passwords online, make sure to keep backup paper copies of your card information, usernames, and passwords.
Sarah Kaufman is the editor-in-chief of The Manilla Folder at Manilla.com, the leading free and secure service that helps consumers simplify and organize all of their bills and household accounts in one place online or via the 4-plus-star customer-rated mobile apps. Sarah is also a regular contributor to Yahoo! Finance, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, Redbook, and other sites. For more financial tracking and budgeting advice, visit Manilla.com.