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Tips to Prevent Identity Theft and Fraud

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Tips to Prevent Identity Theft and Fraud

Tips to Prevent ID Theft and Fraud from our friends at Nerd Wallet

Recent data breaches at retailers such as Target and Home Depot might have you worried about identity theft and fraud, but you can minimize the risk of it happening to you. Here are a few strategies to keep your information safe both online and off.

Online Security

Make your passwords complex, with a mix of numbers, letters and keyboard characters and change them regularly. Keep them at least 10 characters long. Also update them at least once a year and don’t share them with anyone.

Before anything else, confirm that the network and the website you’ve reached through it are secure. Avoid using public Wi-Fi networks such as in a coffee shop when sending private information. Check to see that the site you’re on is secure by looking for “https” in its address and a padlock symbol. You may be able to use your phone to set up a mobile hot spot when you need to go online in public spaces.

Check your bank and credit accounts regularly to catch signs of theft or fraud. Examine monthly statements. If you see any unfamiliar transactions, notify your bank or card issuer immediately to limit your liability. Also, watch carefully for notices from state and federal tax authorities, as tax-related identity theft is an increasing problem. Check out this Internal Revenue Service guide for more information.

Set up email notifications with your bank. When using online services, financial institutions like Benchmark Bank let you create emailed notices when your account settings are changed, so you’ll be alerted if that happens without your permission.

Offline Measures

Keep sensitive information out of sight. Don’t leave any personal or financial documents in plain sight in your car, home or workplace. Purchase cabinets or a carrying case with locks and store them there.

Limit the cards you carry. When you’re out running errands, take only one or two credit and debit cards and leave the rest at home. In case of theft, you’ll have spare cards to use.

Shred old receipts and statements. Don’t just throw away your mail. Cut up unnecessary or outdated receipts, credit card offers, medical and bank statements, insurance forms and other forms with sensitive information so they can’t fall into the hands of potential criminals when you toss them out.

Consolidate emergency contact information. If you experience identity theft, you’ll want to have all the numbers and websites you need close at hand. This includes your bank’s fraud hotline number, credit card issuers and your personal contacts. You’ll also want to place a fraud alert on your credit reports. For steps on that, see the Federal Trade Commission page.

Keeping your information protected both online and offline can take some time and effort, but the enhanced security will reduce the risk — and cost — of identity theft.

Spencer Tierney, NerdWallet

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