Identity theft is one of the most frustrating experiences you may ever have the misfortune to experience. The risks are high: your credit score (that you’ve spent years building) could crumble, your life savings could be wiped out, or you could find yourself looking at thousands of dollars in unpaid debt and bills.
Fraudsters have a variety of options to take advantage of; if they get your personal information (such as date of birth or social security number), they could commit synthetic identity fraud, new account fraud, or enrollment fraud. If you recognize any of the behaviors listed below, you may want to contact your bank to protect yourself and your investments.
First, you use the same easy-to-remember password on all your important accounts. Tempting (and convenient) though it may be, the more varied and unique your login information is, the less likely your information will be hacked. If you’re not using a multitude of letters, numbers, and characters — in addition to different passwords for each critical account — change them immediately.
Second, it’s been more than three months since you checked your credit report. Sophisticated thieves don’t just steal money from your pocket, they take out loans in your name and then skip out on paying the balance. The resulting damage can destroy your hard-earned credit score; the best way to prevent such an occurrence and minimize exposure to identity theft is to keep a constant eye on your score. If you notice any kind of odd behavior or changes, contact your lender ASAP.
15.4 million consumers in the U.S. were victims of identity theft in 2018 at an estimated cost of $16 billion
Finally, you carry your social security card in your wallet. Your social security number is like a gateway into your financial life; keeping it on your person where it could easily become lost or be stolen is like leaving that gate — with all of your money and personal possessions visible through the bars — wide open. Instead, store your card in a safe at home, or in a safety deposit box at the bank.
Technological advances have both helped and hindered fraudsters, but personal vigilance is the best mode of defense any individual has against identity fraud. With over 15.4 million Americans falling victim to identity fraud in 2016 alone, the safest way to mitigate payment risk is to be smart about your financial behavior.