Personal information gets exposed every day. Even the most respected organizations and companies slip up now and again, resulting in customers' names, emails, addresses and credit card details falling into the wrong hands.
In many cases, a wide-scale data breach may lead to identity theft. However, while preventing some of these incidents are out of your hands, others issues may be avoidable. Therefore, learning the risk factors that can lead to identity theft may help you better protect you financial information.
1. At Risk: Social Security Numbers
Social Security numbers are the créme de la créme for identity thieves. With a stolen number, a thief could obtain employment in your name, a line of credit and even medical treatment. Safeguarding this information is one of the most important steps you can take to defend against identity theft.
- Avoid carrying your Social Security card in your wallet or purse unless it is absolutely necessary.
- If your driver's license or healthcare policy numbers are the same as your Social Security number, ask for a substitute.
- Before sharing your number with a company or business, ask why they need it and how it will be used.
2. At Risk: Old Mail and Trash
One of the age-old tactics used by many identity thieves is to rummage through trash in search of discarded mail, such as financial documents and bill stubs. This risk factor may go overlooked by consumers who don't think someone might dive through their garbage; however, thieves often go to great lengths to obtain potentially profitable information. Something as simple as a pre-approved credit card offer may lead you to suffer from identity theft.
- Always shred your important documents, including bank statements, pay stubs and medical records, before throwing them in the trash.
- Put a stop to pre-approved credit mailings by calling 1-888-5-OPT-OUT, a suggestion from the Federal Trade Commission.
3. At Risk: Web Passwords
More and more consumers use the Internet to meet people, purchase goods and services, and apply for jobs. Whether you are signing up with a social networking website, registering with your favorite retailer or saving a resume for a potential position, you will likely have to create a username and password. Poor login construction may result in the exposure of your personal and financial information, potentially leading to identity theft.
- Do not use the same username and password for multiple accounts. If you don't diversify your logins, it could result in a thief gaining access to a large amount of your private data.
- Add symbols, capital letters and numbers into your passwords. The more complex the code, the harder it may be to crack.