Personal Finance

6 Things You Should Do to Protect Yourself From Identity Theft

With all of the wild, exponential advancements in computer technology over the past two decades, we have seen some incredible increases in convenience. In major cities, it’s now possible to order a package off of Amazon and have it delivered to your house within an hour. Instead of wiring your deadbeat cousin 200 dollars for rent at your local Western Union, you can just send it to him via PayPal. Or, you can block him on Facebook and make it a non-issue.

But along with these amazing conveniences have come a number of security risks as well. With such a large portion of financial interactions being moved to a completely digital space, purchasing has become a faceless act, and thus that much easier to commit fraud. It’s a lot easier for someone to silently grab your financial information from a database and rack up hundreds of thousands of dollars of purchases online than it is to rob you at gunpoint and make any major purchases before you cancel your card.

It’s not as bad as it seems though. I can assure you that the money you are exchanging online is, in fact, real money, and it is still a perfectly safe way to transfer money, especially if you follow strong security protocols. It isn’t time to make yourself a hermit and go off the grid. Instead, follow these 6 tips in order to prevent identity theft and protect your financial information.

1. Use Verified Websites

That phone case with the minions on the back that you’ve just been dying to have is a steep 50 dollars on Amazon. As you start to complete your order online, doubt seeps in as to whether you really need to spend that much money on a phone case or if that money could be better spent to, I don’t know, keep the lights on in your apartment.  You take to the internet and see if there isn’t a better deal somewhere else and, lo and behold, you discover that it’s only 19.99 on, with free shipping to boot!

But what’s more expensive? The extra 30 bucks you will spend on Amazon, or the thousands of dollars of joy riding some internet vandal will get on your credit card?

While there are some smaller vendors that are legitimate, it is always safer to use familiar, major websites with good reputations when submitting any sensitive data, including your credit card number. If you want to support smaller businesses, make sure to google the site before giving them any personal information. You can also tell if there is a lock icon in the address bar – that is an indication of a secure website.

If the first thing that pops up is something along the lines of, you’ve got a fake on your hands. Take it from a guy who almost convinced himself he found a real pair of Air Yeezy Two’s online for 35 dollars: it’s worth checking.

2. Never Give Out Your Social Security Number

I know it can be annoying to be given a piece of advice you’ve been ignoring from your mom for as long as you can remember, but this one is right on the money. Ninety-nine percent of the time, a vendor doesn’t need your social security number to complete a purchase. So just never give it out.

Even if you think you’re on a completely trustworthy website like Amazon or Etsy, you could have clicked a fraudulent link at some point on your path that led you to a fake website. Highly detailed recreations of websites are a clever and popular way to steal your private information, so when in doubt, or even when you aren’t in doubt, just don’t give it out.

3. Utilize Anti-virus Software

As with any problem, there are a number of companies profiting off of preventing or solving identity theft. Popular security software like Norton and McAfee have come a long way in protecting their customers from online fraud. There is also software that generates an independent and secure browser window every time you need to enter financial information, whether it be through online banking or making online purchases. With the large availability of anti-virus software, there is no excuse for leaving your computer unprotected.

4. Save Financial Transactions for Your Computer

If you have wisely followed the previous tip and made your computer a secure and safe place to make financial transactions, it would be simply counterproductive to then turn around and then do all of your banking on your phone. Anti-virus software is not yet prevalent in the smart phone universe, and therefore your phone is inherently more vulnerable to hacking than your computer.

Also, when entering any important financial information into your phone, you risk it unknowingly being saved on your phone or in the cloud. If you were to lose your phone — a common issue for even the most practical of us — all of that information would be at the fingertips of a thief.

5. Use Unique Passwords

It’s amazing that in such a technologically advanced society, this is still one of the biggest security problems we face. If your password includes the word password, your birthday, or your first pet’s name, you are simply making the hacker’s job too easy. Make your passwords something that makes sense to you and only you. Make it the name of your first boss, then your cousin’s birthday, then your second boss, then your dog’s birthday, with random capital letters thrown about. It may be hard to remember, but just write it down. It’s worth it. On top of that, have a different password for each site, so if one is compromised, the rest are still safe.

6. Keep an Eye on Your Finances

Everyone, even if you are in the top 10 percent of the top 1 percent of earners in this country, should be keeping a pretty close eye on their money. But make sure to comb credit card bills and bank statements to find any fraudulent activity. Report any fishy behavior at first sight in order to counteract theft as quickly as possible.

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