Identity theft is a real fear for many people, as it should be. I know from personal experience how scary, frustrating, and helpless having your identity stolen can feel. When my identity was stolen in 1998 I spent four months attempting to clear my name and re-take control of my identity. It was horrible. But here’s the thing, it was absolutely my fault. I left my wallet and my checkbook in my car, where it was stolen and then used to open lines of credit in my name. It was completely avoidable. I’m an idiot.
Identity protection services have been popping up pretty regularly for the last decade or so. And I’m not saying paying for identity protection is a bad idea, but I do believe there are ways for you to protect your own identity. Number one way to avoid identity theft? Don’t leave your wallet and checkbook in your vehicle. And here are 5 other steps you can take right now to protect your identity:
1) Don’t carry your life on your person
Ladies, I’m talking about your purses. Gents, I’m talking about your wallets. You don’t need to carry every form of identification with you at all times. No need to have your Social Security card or your birth certificate with you. Those need to be in a safe at home. There’s no need to hand your identity over to thieves on a platter. If they are going to steal your purse or wallet, at least make them work for it.
2) Be careful with email
Email “phishing” scams are one of the most common forms of identity theft. To be on the safe side don’t click links in emails that appear to be from any of your service providers (banks, cell phone company, etc). Advanced scams can create websites that look deceptively similar to your service provider. Just as a precaution, access your service provider’s web address via typing the known website into a browser as opposed to clicking links from an email.
3) Shred everything
4) Get creative with usernames and passwords
It’s easy to get in a password rut when certain services require a password change every other day (or so it seems). But you’ve got to fight this. Get creative. Avoid the ‘KidsName123’ passwords and go for something with lots of #$*#(%&. I’m not cursing at you, I really mean use lots of #)@#$U(@*. Will it be hard to remember? Sure. But will it help keep your information protected? Absolutely.
5) Check your credit report every year
It’s easy to assume you know everything going on in your financial life, but a credit report will show you what’s going on that you don’t know about. Don’t wait 5 years to check your report. You could find out that someone has been living the good life off of your name in Sedona. Check your credit report every year to monitor your financial life and to avoid any surprises.
I don’t need to tell you how important your identity is. Take these five simple steps to keep yourself protected. If you are still actively worried about getting your identity stolen, go ahead and research and purchase identity theft protection. I’m not above putting money toward a concern as long as your budget can sustain it and you are also actively doing your part.
Peter Dunn a.k.a. Pete the Planner® is an award-winning financial mind and a former comedian. He’s a USA TODAY columnist, author of ten books, and is the host of the popular radio show and podcast, The Pete the Planner Show. Pete is considered one of the foremost experts on financial wellness in the world, but he’s just as likely to talk your ear off about bass fishing.