In today's high-tech world, no number of deadbolts can keep all danger at bay. Sounds a bit paranoid, right? Think about this: More than 15 million people experienced some kind of identity theft in 2016, according to Javelin Strategy & Research, up from 13 million in 2015.
There's a common misconception that threats to your personal security exist solely online. There are also several ways your information can be compromised each time you shop at a store, walk down the street, schedule a vacation or go through many other types of daily activities. Whether you are on social media or hiding from technology, your information may be up for grabs with lots of unsavory types.
Online shopping and banking activities can pose a serious threat, especially if you don't take certain reasonable precautions. Rule No. 1: Do not conduct any online transactions or banking on a public computer or using an unsecured or unknown Wi-Fi network. If you must log on to do banking or other sensitive work outside your home, the best option is using data service on your smartphone or tablet. Rule No. 2: If you use any public (or friend's) device to research possible purchases or sign in to social media accounts, always make sure to log out and quit the browser when you are done.
Many people have mixed feelings about using online banking. It's convenient, but does it pose a higher risk than the old-fashioned monthly paper statements and waiting in line to deposit checks? You have to decide for yourself what you feel most comfortable with, but keep some things in mind. For one, paper bank statements and paper checks carry a lot of personal information, including account numbers, bank branches, your name and your address. Also, mailed statements can be stolen or misdirected. And when statements come monthly, it means that mistakes and fraudulent transactions may not be discovered for up to a month. If you do use online banking, elect to use a two-step verification during sign-in. Make sure your password is complex and not simply your date of birth. And always be sure to log out after every visit. If you are using online banking, get into the habit of checking your account and transactions every few days.
Storing your credit card information with online retailers also means that you are leaving access open to your personal finances. Enter it individually when you go shopping, and make sure to say no if your device asks to store the information. Check your receipts when shopping using a credit or debit card. Under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act, the account number printed on the receipt must be abbreviated, and the expiration date should not appear at all. Credit card use is generally safer than debit card use because it doesn't link directly to your bank account.
Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other social networks are popular places for scammers to collect personally identifiable information. Members tend to post birthdays, family names, childhood memories, hometowns, schools and other seemingly trivial personal information. Knowing these details can give hackers all kinds of clues when it comes to passwords and answers to security questions. Information posted online can give identity thieves much of the information they need to fill out loan applications and otherwise take over people's lives. Also, social media users should wait to post vacation photos until after the trip is over and everyone is back home so they don't advertise an empty home.
Finally, you can use AnnualCreditReport.com to request your free annual credit reports so that you can safely monitor your credit rating and catch any errors.