Ways To Protect Your Identity
We hear about identity theft almost daily now, sometimes from data breaches and sometimes from individual thefts. The biggest data breach in 2017 was the Equifax data breach (link is external), affecting millions of consumers. During the breach that lasted from mid-May through July, hackers accessed names, social security numbers, birthdates, and addresses as well as hundreds of thousands of credit card numbers. With this type of information hackers can easily take out loans your name, empty your bank accounts, and rack up credit card debt – all of which can negatively impact your credit score.
Your credit score is an important part of getting a home loan. It affects your interest rate and monthly payment. Don’t wait until you’ve found that dream home to discover that you have an issue with your credit. Whether or not you have been affected by identity theft, it’s better to be proactive in protecting yourself.
7 Tips to Protect Yourself From Identity Theft
Tip #1 Check account statements.
Stay on top of checking your statements from various bank and credit card accounts, as well as tax statements. Look for any suspicious or unauthorized activity and report immediately if you find something.
Tip #2 Don’t use Public WiFi for secure transactions.
Public WiFi is not secure and your device can be easily hacked, giving access to transactions you do at the time. Hackers may be able to get not only passwords, but also account numbers and other secure information.
Tip #3 Don’t email sensitive information.
Be careful about what you send through email. There have been multiple breaches with email providers and email is not considered completely secure. If you are sending your social security number, account numbers, or other sensitive information, find a different and more secure method of delivering the info, such as using an online fax, a file-sharing program, or handing over in-person.
Tip #4 Use strong passwords.
Be sure that the passwords you use are complex – usually containing uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers or symbols, and at least 8 characters long. Do not use the same password to log into everything and change passwords periodically.
Tip #5 Watch out for Phishing and scams.
Don’t click on links or give out personal information that seems to be requested by financial or other institutions over email. Spammers will send out emails that look legitimate in order to get your information. Always contact the institution directly to verify that they have actually requested the information.
Tip #6 Check your credit report.
Check your credit reports at least annually to look for any unusual activity. You are entitled to one free credit report from each of the 3 major bureaus once a year. Request this information through AnnualCreditReport.com (link is external). Some credit card companies offer this as a free service for being a customer.
Tip #7 Add fraud alerts or freezes to your credit accounts.
If you have had any suspicious activity or if you want to take extra precautions, you can add a fraud alert or freeze to your credit. Fraud alerts are free and require an extra step for identification before approving credit. A freeze actually locks your credit unless you remove it, but does have fees associated with it.
It takes some effort to stay on top of all of your activity and credit reports, but if it keeps your information secure and protects you from identity theft, it’s worth it! Not only will it save you the hassle of dealing with identity theft after it happens, but it will also keep your credit in great shape for a future home loan when you need it.
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