According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, Massachusetts ranks 18th in the nation for instances of identity theft. New Hampshire and Rhode Island come in at 9th and 11th respectively. It seems we're being constantly bombarded with threats - at home on our computers or phones and while shopping at our favorite stores. You think you're being careful and know not to fall for the calls from the "IRS", but identity thieves are getting quite sophisticated. Here are seven key areas where the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) suggests you keep your guard up.
Physical protection -
- Keep your financial documents and wallet in a secure location
- Don't carry your social security card, medical cards and more than one credit card unless you need them
- Use a shredder
- Destroy labels on empty prescription bottles before discarding
- Don't leave outgoing mail in your mailbox, bring it to the post office.
Disposing of your mobile device
- Remove your personal information
- Try a factory reset or check with your mobile provider on how to do this
- Remove or erase SIM and SD cards
- Verify that your information has been cleared by checking your phonebook, voicemails, texts, etc.
- Recycle or donate your device
Disposing of your old computer
- Save any files that you want to keep onto a removable drive or transfer to a new computer
- Use a program (such as DBAN) to overwrite or wipe the computer hard drive or, if you just have select files to destry, use a file shredder program such as Eraser or BitKiller
- Recycle (i.e. Staples, Inc.) or donate your computer
Using Public Wi-Fi
- Don't assume that the Wi-Fi at the coffee shop, hotel, or even at work is secure. Chances are good that they aren't.
- Only use personal information on a secured website (https at the start of the web address) which encrypts your data
- Be wary of using mobile apps on Wi-Fi as you can't tell if they are encrypted
- Consider changing your settings so that your mobile device does not automatically connect to an available Wi-Fi
Using an IP camera to monitor your home
- Since IP cameras connect directly to the internet, consider purchasing a camera that encrypts the information it sends online or you will be hositing an online open house
- Look for a camera that supports wireless security protocols, like WPA2
- Keep the software that comes with your camera up-to-date. Also make sure the mobile app you use to connect to your IP camera is the latest version.
- Use a password - and make sure that it is a strong password and not something easy to guess
Using Mobile Apps
- Take time before you download an app to assure that it's not a fake app
- Ask other users
- Check out the company's website for refereces to this app
- Never click on an email link to download an app
- Before you use a shopping app that allows you to pay with your mobile device, look for:
- Contact information
- How quickly you need to report any unauthorized charges
- Any limits on your responsibility for unauthorized charges
- If the company will investigate your claim
- Apps that tell you what they do with your data and how they keep it secure
- Think twice before linking your credit card or bank account to any app
Disaster Preparedness ( if you're forced to leave your home, where are your fianancial documents?)
- Purchase a lockable, fireproof file box for your important documents so that you can "grab it and go" if necessary. It should hold:
- Your household inventory
- A list of emergency contacts
- Copies of current prescriptions
- Health insurance cards or information
- Policy numbers for all your insurance policies and the insurance company phone numbers
- Copies of records such as deed, titles, wills, birth and marriage certificates, passports and employee benefit and retirement documents
- Contact information for your creditors, banks, utility companies
- List of bank, loan, credit card, debit card and investment account numbers
- Social security cards
- Backups of financial data on your computer
- Extra keys for house and car
- A small amount of cash or traveler's checks
- Consider renting a safe deposit box to store original documents.
Following these suggestions will certainly help you protect yourself from identity theft.