Identity theft is a pervasive problem. Information about you can be used to exploit you financially and in other ways and, because of that, there are always people out there looking for it. Here are some of the ways you can protect yourself from identity theft, online and off-line. Be aware of the fact that, in some cases, an identity thief may actually not be located far away from you and may use both physical and digital means to glean information about your identity.
Let’s Get Physical
Let’s start out by talking about protecting yourself from identity theft in real world situations, as opposed to online.
First, make sure you are not carrying any forms of ID that you don’t need. This extends to government benefit cards, membership cards to services that you don’t need to carry around with you and so forth. Any of that information, if it is stolen, could contain pieces that an identity thief could combine with other sources of information to get dangerously comprehensive information about you, allowing them to do everything from run up your credit cards to withdraw money from your bank account to take out loans in your name.
When you throw paper documents away, shred them first. If you don’t have a paper shredder, a pair of scissors will do. Any old credit cards or other plastic cards need to be cut up so that the numbers cannot be reconstructed by a thief and so that the card cannot be used again. Make sure you destroy old CDs and hard drives that you throw in the trash before disposing of them. Drilling a hole through a hard drive will make it essentially unreadable.
When you’re online, there are a few things you can do toavoid the most common identity theft scams.
If you get an email from a service that you use asking you to change anything about your account or to log into their website, never login from the email link. Repeat that to yourself: never log in from the email link. Go to the site directly and log into your account. There is a pretty good chance you’ll find out that the site never emailed you asking you to login or change anything, though it does happen sometimes.
If you get an email from a service you use or a bank you use asking you for your password, it is always fake. They will never ask you for your password. You should forward these emails to the applicable service so they’re aware of the problem.
If you can avoid it, don’t use public Wi-Fi networks, ever. They’re convenient, to be sure, but if you just need to check your email or instant messages or even do some light web browsing, using the wireless 3G or 4G connection on your smart phone is a bit safer. Turn off your Wi-Fi service on any electronic devices you have if you are not deliberately using a Wi-Fi network.
You can also use services such as VPNs, which encrypt your traffic and prevent people from being able to intercept and read it online, or determine where you are. These are excellent solutions that are increasingly affordable; oftentimes downright inexpensive these days.