What is identity theft?
Odds are, if you have a pulse and weren’t born yesterday, then you know the answer to the question “What is identity theft?”
But, just in case you’re not sure, here’s a short definition…
Identity theft is when someone else, without your permission, acts as though they are you.
Although there are many variations of identity theft, the one most people are familiar with is where someone steals or copies your credit card or other financial information and goes on a spending spree before anyone notices.
Even if you know what identity theft is though, you might not know exactly how it feels to be the victim.
To get a better idea of what it might feel like watch the short commercial below for a humorous, but fairly accurate depiction of what a victim of identity theft might go through after having their identity stolen.
OK, OK, so maybe you don’t start talking in the same voice as the person who stole your identity like the guy in the video, but if you’re the victim of identity theft, it CAN feel as though someone else is taking over your life.
Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to help reduce the risk of becoming a victim of identity theft.
How to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft
A few weeks ago, Elizabeth Mitchell, writer for SheKnows.com, asked me that question. Below are some of the thoughts I gave her, as well as some that I’ve added since the article came out.
I’ve also included a link to her article with more tips on how to protect yourself from identity theft at the bottom of this blog post.
1. Shred documents with personal and financial information
One of the biggest ways people are susceptible to identity theft is from throwing away mail, bank statements, and credit card offers in their trash without shredding them.
Make sure to buy a high quality document shredder and once you no longer need the document, shred it and get rid of it!
Could a criminal still sort through your trash and piece together the shredded document?
Sure, anything’s possible.
Odds are though, he’ll move on to an easier target.
2. Don’t use the same password
Imagine for a second that you use the same key for your house, your car, your office…you name it and that one key opens it all.
What would happen if someone stole or copied that key?
Well, they could get into anything they wanted, now couldn’t they?
Now, think of your online passwords like little keys. Let’s say someone manages to steal the “key” that opens your email inbox.
All the person would then have to do would be to see what companies you get emails from and go to those sites to log in using your email and recently hacked password.
“But if I have lots of different passwords that are hard to break, then I won’t be able to remember them all,” you say?
Use a program like LastPass to do the heavy lifting when it comes to remembering passwords and keeping them stored securely in one place.
They have both a free version and a premium version that costs $12/year.
3. Check your credit reports
Every year, you can receive one free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus.
No, I’m not talking about those cheesy commercials that say you can get a “free” credit report when what they really mean is “free trial and after the free trial we’ll charge you an arm and a leg and make it almost impossible for you to cancel our service.”
The free credit reports I’m talking about are available from www.annualcreditreport.com.
At www.annualcreditreport.com you can get one free credit report (you guessed it) annually, mandated by law, from the three major credit bureaus:
You can get them all at once, or if you prefer, spread them out over the course of the year.
Either way, make sure you get them and report any inaccuracies to the corresponding credit bureau.
To read some of my other thoughts on how to protect you from identity theft, read the article on SheKnows.com titled, “Everyday Habits to Pick Up to Avoid Identity Theft” by Elizabeth Mitchell.