You're probably guilty of at least one of these.
Identity thieves are innovative and identity theft protection measures constantly have to change to combat the latest threats. Most financial institutions take steps to verify your identity before opening a new account in your name and alert you if they detect any suspicious activity, but if you want to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft, you must take measures to protect yourself as well.
Identity thieves prefer easy targets, so failing to protect your financial and personal information places you high on their list. Here are five signs you could unknowingly be inviting identity thieves to come after you.
1. You use simple passwords
Simple passwords are easier for identity thieves to crack, which gives them easier access to your personal and financial information. Many websites now require you to include a certain number of upper- and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols to create more complex passwords to help lock out identity thieves. Even if a website doesn't require a complex password, it's still a good idea to create one.
2. You use the same password for every account
Using the same password for every account is a dangerous habit that too many people are guilty of. Even if your password is strong, once an identity thief cracks your password on one account, he or she can gain access to all of your other accounts. You're better off creating different passwords for every account and using a password manager if you struggle to remember them all on your own.
3. You share your credit card information on any website
You should only give your credit card number, Social Security Number, or other important financial information to websites you trust. Sites that have a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate -- those that begin with "https" instead of "http" -- encrypt your information so that hackers can't get to your data. Don't give your financial information to websites without an SSL certificate because there's nothing to stop hackers from gaining access to it.
4. You share a lot of personal information online
In the era of social media, many account security questions, like your mother's maiden name or the name of your best friend in high school, are no longer as secure as they once were; anyone willing to do a little research can find the answers. If you post things that could lead identity thieves to your address or other personal information, they could use this information to pretend that they're you and access your existing financial accounts or open up new accounts in your name. Always think carefully before sharing anything on social media and limit who can view your social media profiles to deter thieves.
5. You leave your credit card or Social Security card lying around
When most people think of identity thieves, they think of card skimmers and online hacking, but sometimes the simplest method is just to use the information that's right in front of you. If you leave your wallet or Social Security card lying around unguarded, someone could make a note of the numbers and use them to run up fraudulent charges in your name. Keep your Social Security card in a secure place where others won't have access to it and never leave your wallet unattended.
What to do if you think you're a victim of identity theft
Even if you avoid all the mistakes mentioned above, you could still fall victim to identity theft. Your first move should be to figure out how widespread the damage is by pulling your credit reports. You can access one free credit report per bureau per year through AnnualCreditReport.com. Look for any incorrect information or any accounts you don't recognize.
If you find anything amiss, notify the credit bureau and the financial institution associated with the account. Consider placing a fraud alert on your account as well to notify lenders that they should take additional steps to verify your identity before opening new accounts in your name.
Contact your credit card issuer to cancel any cards that have been stolen and let them know about any charges on your bill that you didn't make. Get into the habit of checking over your credit card bills in the future if you don't already do so. Change your passwords on any accounts that were hacked and if you use that same password on any other accounts, change those as well.
You'll never be completely free from risk of identity theft, but by avoiding the mistakes above and monitoring your accounts vigilantly, you can decrease the likelihood of becoming the next victim.
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