Securing your personal information isn’t that hard. It just takes some forethought and a little practice. In general, most of the information we share from day to day doesn’t need to be protected, because it’s public information. You don’t need make a up a fake name for Facebook or only meet your friends at the park so they can’t learn your home address – those things aren’t what Identity thieves are after.
Identity thieves want your private information: things like you date of birth, Social Security number, financial account numbers, and medical information.
So how can you keep that private information safe?
1. Don’t share it
That sounds simple, but in today’s oversharing world, it’s something we really need to think about. Can your Facebook friends see your date of birth? It’s okay to share your birthday, but hide the year.
Your date of birth is most often sought in conjunction with another piece of private information, like your Social Security number, which together can be used to take out loans or open new credit card accounts. But a date of birth can also be used on its own to do things like verify your online accounts or, worse, reset an online password. So, no, your FB friends won’t be able to wish you a Happy 40th! But did you want them to anyway?
2. Don’t keep it on you
When was the last time you needed your Social Security card at the store? Or your birth certificate? Or ten different credit cards?
If you don’t need those things, don’t keep them in your purse or wallet. Make a habit of carrying only the things you absolutely need. Cash. Your driver’s license. And one or two debit and credit cards. That way, if you lose your wallet, or someone steals it, the only information they’ll get are things you can easily change – A quick call to your bank, and those card numbers won’t work anymore!
If you do need to carry additional documents with you, keep them on you at all times.
3. Keep it in a safe
This is for all that extra stuff you’re leaving at home. Place your private documents in the safe, and keep them locked up. I recommend a fireproof safe, since it can protect your documents in case of a fire or flood. But for the purposes of identity theft protection, any solid safe will do. And the heavier the better – if someone breaks into your house, they might just grab a light safe and find a way to open later. If they can’t carry it, they probably won’t run off with it.
If you’re traveling, take advantage of the in-room safes Just make sure it’s the kind that lets you set your own code each morning. (And refer back to #2 – only bring documents you need with you when you travel.)
4. Don’t give it out
This is another one that sounds easy, but isn’t always. Businesses love to ask for our personal information. Your doctor’s office. Your kid’s school. The gym. Everyone wants to know your private information. But do they really need it?
If you’ve already given the medical center your insurance card, do they need your Social Security number too? There’s a reason insurance companies stopped using your SSN for your membership number – so you wouldn’t have to share it as much. Unfortunately, not everyone has caught on yet. Don’t be afraid to ask why they need it and what steps they take to make sure that information is kept safe.
And don’t be afraid to say no.
5. Secure it online too
Just like you shouldn’t give out your personal information, you need to also protect your online information. Your online passwords can be a gateway to all sorts of useful data for identity thieves.
If an identity thief gets ahold of your bank password, they can access your checking account, make online payments, change your account information, or even open new accounts for themselves. If you use that same password for other accounts, they may be able to make online purchases, sell your stock, or change your medical insurance information. So keep those accounts private and separate.
Don’t ever share your passwords. Don’t write them down. Use a different password for each online account. And change your passwords often. The harder you make it for an identity thief to steal your information, the more protected you’ll be.
Unfortunately, there’s no guaranteed way to prevent identity theft. Even if you follow all of these steps, they can’t protect the information you’ve already shared from being stolen. But the less information you have out there, the less chance it can be used for identity theft. So start protecting yourself today!