Everyday there are more and more scams coming our way. While some are just mildly annoying, others are a full-scale attack on our finances and our identity. Unfortunately there are no failsafe, 100% effective ways to protect ourselves, but there are a lot of steps that we can take to get a bit more peace of mind.
Here are 15 ways you can protect yourself from fraud.
Review your credit card statements.
When your credit card statement comes in the mail it’s easy to simply pay it and move on. But being vigilant and reviewing your statement thoroughly can help ensure you don’t have any charges that aren’t yours. While some people may get your credit card number and make a large, obvious purchase, others may use your card for smaller transactions that could easily slip through the cracks. Reviewing your statements thoroughly and reporting any suspicious activity as soon as possible will help protect you.
Be careful at the ATM.
We often need to stop at the ATM to get some cash, but ATMs are very popular spots for identity thieves. If anything looks off on the machine itself, such as a crooked keypad or a card slot that doesn’t look quite right, play it safe and pick a different machine. If you see anyone hanging around the machine or looking over your shoulder, take it as another sign to go elsewhere. And never leave your receipt there after your transaction is done.
Use antivirus and antispyware software.
Our computers have all of our information on them, and we mean ALL of our information. A sneaky virus is all it takes to have our identity stolen. But antivirus software can offer a bit more protection in case something gets onto your computer. Norton and McAfee are just two of the options on the market that can help keep your private information private. There are websites that offer “antivirus software” that is actually just spyware, and this ruse can be pretty convincing. Be sure to check out any software you want to install ahead of time to ensure that it is the real deal.
Avoid shady websites and popups.
Even if you have antivirus software installed on your computer, it’s best to avoid danger zones entirely if you can. If websites have a ton of popups and ads, it’s best to avoid them entirely. And under no circumstances should you ever click on pop ups that tell you that you have won something. The only thing you will win is a nasty computer virus.
Be wary of emails.
Email scams are some of the most common scams out there. Spam folders do a pretty good job these days of keeping these emails out of our inbox, but they can often wiggle through the filters. If an email comes from someone you don’t know, be sure to look out for the following:
- Attachments. Unless you are expecting an attachment from someone, never open anything that is sent to you.
- Embedded links. Again, don’t click on a link unless you are expecting it. These links can lead to websites that steal your information.
- Urgent, excited, or grammatically incorrect emails. These are all telltale signs of a phishing email.
Also be on the lookout for suspicious emails from friends or family members. If an email seems off, there’s a chance that your friend’s email was hacked. Instead call them and alert them to the situation.
Only purchase from secure websites.
When a website has a security authentication (https://) it means that the site is secure and hosted on a protected server. Using a credit card on an unprotected website puts you at greater risk for having your information stolen.
Review your credit report often.
Your credit report is a window into your financial life. It not only keeps track of how much debt you have and how many accounts you have, but it keeps track of your payments and credit inquiries. Reviewing your report can alert you if a new account was opened without your knowledge, if a credit inquiry was made, or if there was a new debt. Reporting suspicious activity as soon as possible can save you a lot of trouble down the road.
Protect your mail.
Mail theft is a very common way for fraudsters to get your information. Sensitive information is commonly put in the mail and if it ends up in the wrong hands it can create quite the hassle for you. Retrieving your mail as quickly as possible, having your mail put on hold when you are going out of town, and mailing your bills directly from the post office can help reduce this risk.
Shred your paperwork.
Make sure to shred any documents that contain personal information. Anything with identifying information or account information should be shredded to avoid identity theft. Getting a cheap shredder from Amazon can save you a lot of hassle.
Keep your personal information tucked away somewhere safe.
Your social security card, credit cards, bank information, and passwords are all things that you should keep a careful eye on. Keeping all of your information in a locked cabinet will help make sure your information doesn’t end up in the wrong hands.
Update your passwords.
We know, updating your passwords is a huge pain. It’s hard to keep different passwords for different sites, especially when every site has different requirements. And while it is much easier to use the same password for everything, it’s extremely unwise (and unsafe) to do so. Instead use a password protector app or keep your passwords stored in a safe place. And avoid the easy to guess passwords such as your spouse’s birthday or, even worse, “1234”. A combination of uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols will help create secure passwords and protect your valuable information. Updating them periodically will keep them, and your information, more secure.
Password protect your device.
If you do not have a password on your phone or computer, you are one step away from having your information completely stolen. If you happen to misplace your phone or laptop for even a second, someone with sticky fingers can easily access all of your information with no trouble at all. A passcode or password will provide another layer of protection until you are able to locate your devices.
Never give out information over the phone.
Legitimate organizations will never ask for your personal information over the phone, period. They may ask you to confirm the last digits of your bank account or social security number, but they will not ask for this information in full. It’s incredibly easy for an identity thief to get your phone number and contact you. Don’t be fooled by whatever their game is. There is no reason to ever give this information out, so just hang up if you receive a call like this.
Limit the number of credit cards you carry.
If you have multiple credit cards, try not to carry all of them on you at once. If your wallet is stolen you will have a lot more calls to make and cards to monitor. Even worse, you may not realize that one is gone and it may take a while for you to catch on that it is missing. Meanwhile you may be racking up some serious debt while someone is out on a shopping spree.
Subscribe to an identity theft protection service.
Services such as LifeLock will monitor your information and alert you to any identity theft attempts. Whether it’s an unusual charge on your credit card or a new account that was opened in your name, these services can help you detect any issues early on.
What should I do if I notice something suspicious?
If you believe your information has been compromised, take the following steps to protect yourself:
- Review your credit report immediately. Be sure to look through all of the information to determine if any accounts have been opened in your name. Report anything suspicious to the credit agency.
- File a report. If you are sure that your identity has been stolen, you want to report it to the police as well as to the Federal Trade Commision.
- Alert your accounts. Contact your credit card companies and alert them to the identity theft. They may recommend closing your accounts and opening new ones that have not been compromised.
- Place a security freeze on your information. This will alert all creditors that your information has been stolen and they should not open any accounts at the moment. This can prevent any additional accounts from being opened in your name.
- Be wary moving forward. When you have your new accounts set and secure, still be vigilant. Review your statements and credit report often to make sure that your identity is secure.
That’s how you can protect yourself from fraud.
Identity theft and scams can be a nightmare to deal with, so the best thing you can do is protect your information as much as possible. A good offense is the best defense, after all.
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