In 2015, you might find yourself on a journey to become a better version of yourself: a New Year, a new you. While the fresh start may ignite a barrage of resolutions addressing everything from your fitness plan to your personal finances, it’s also important to consider another aspect of your life: the increasing threat of identity theft.
Below, some simple resolutions you can make to help increase your chances of protecting your identity and having a scam-free year ahead.
1. Regularly Change Your Passwords
Creating strong passwords with a combination of lowercase and capital letters and a mix of numbers and symbols is a good first step to securing your online banking and retail accounts. However, you can’t stop there. Regularly change your passwords — at least once a month — to add an extra layer of protection.
2. Spot the Telltale Signs of a Scam
When you see an offer that seems too good to be true, it usually is. Red flags include “free” gift cards to instant job offers and scandalous celebrity videos, warns the Better Business Bureau. The BBB says you should also “be skeptical of any communications riddled with typos or poor grammar.” Also trust your instincts. If you have a hunch that you’re looking at bait for a scam, back off and do some research first.
3. Keep Your Computer Programs Up-to-Date
Updating your browser, operating system and other software helps keep your computer and files safe from malware and the latest viruses. So when your computer prompts you for an update, take a few minutes and follow through.
4. Don’t Provide Financial Information If You Didn’t Initiate Contact
A good rule of thumb: if you receive a suspicious e-mail, phone call or text message requesting personal data when you didn’t initiate contact, think twice. Do some research before providing any information; you can always call a financial institution back (using their official number) later. Be especially leery if the caller says the information is urgent or explains that there will be dire consequences if you don’t act immediately. This almost always reveals a scam.
5. Keep Your Computers and Smartphone Safe
Don’t leave your laptop in the car when you visit, say, a restaurant or a shopping mall, and be careful not to lose your smartphone. These devices make it easy for identity thieves to access personal information.
6. Shred Documents
Also be sure that your paper documents, including bank statements and credit card offers, are shredded before they’re discarded. Thieves can get their hands on your financial data the old-fashioned way, by stealing from your garbage can or mailbox.
7. Review Your Credit Report and Financial Statements
Check everything you can, from credit reports to health insurance documents and bank statements, to be sure nothing seems off. Another place to look: your Social Security statements. If the income reported doesn’t seem accurate and is inflated, it could be a sign that someone else is using your identity. Don't forget about all members of your family, too. Even if you have young children, their identities can be stolen and might be reflected in something like health insurance claims, which should always be reviewed thoroughly.