We’ve all heard the stories of lives ruined due to identity theft, and folks with disabilities are more likely to become victims because their correspondence often includes private information that makes them more vulnerable. In 2017 alone, there were 16.7 million cases of identity theft leading to a total of $16.8 billion stolen.
Technology is ever-present and we are becoming increasingly dependent on it to pay our bills, keep track of our finances, and manage a variety of accounts. Because of this, it’s crucial for everyone to protect themselves and their families by learning how to maintain their privacy and avoid identity theft, especially if you frequently receive medical bills with sensitive information or communicate with loved ones digitally.
What is identity theft?
Identity theft is the act of using another person’s Personally Identifiable Information (PII) for fraud or financial gain. This could be anything from having another person buy property or open new lines of credit in your name to filing fake tax returns or taking out loans. PII includes private information such as your name, date of birth, social security number and other personal details that would allow someone to appear as you. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to protect yourself from identity theft.
How can I avoid having my identity stolen?
1. Don’t Print Documents With Private Information
It’s possible for people who are looking to steal someone’s identity to rummage through trash in search of information they can use for financial gain. If you need to print a document, it is important to redact and shred them before throwing them away.
2. Be Aware of Phishing Scams
Phishing is the fraudulent act of posing as a legitimate business or person in an effort to steal information. This could appear in the form of an email or website asking for pieces of PII to complete a task or purchase. It could even be someone pretending to be your physical therapist. Often, identity thieves will do research to understand what the day-to-day lives of their victims entail so that they can seem more legitimate via email or over the phone. It is important to be cautious if you are asked for any personal information that does is unsolicited such as a pop-up advertisement or an email from a person or company that you are not familiar with.
3. Use a Variety of Secure Passwords
These days, many online accounts will ask you to create passwords that would be difficult for someone to guess. But, even if there are not password requirements for one of your accounts, you should still use numbers, upper and lower case letters as well as symbols to make your passwords more unique. It is also important to a different password for each account so that if one account is hacked, you are still able to protect others.
4. Use an Identity Protection Service
Identity theft protection services are built to monitor your personal information and alert you if you are in danger of identity theft. People find services like these useful because the average identity theft occurs within nine minutes of information getting into the wrong hands - so it’s important to become aware and act quickly if you are at risk.
5. Secure Your Wifi
It’s important to password protect your wireless internet to keep attackers off your network. If someone has access to your wifi, they will also have access to your browsing history to build a profile on you. The simple act of adding a secure and unique password to your wireless internet can help keep thieves away.
6. Make Purchases with Reputable Businesses and Websites
While you may be taking all the necessary steps to keep your information secure, it’s hard to know if a business will do its part to help you avoid identity theft. Only shop online at businesses you trust and use online tools to help you along the way.
7. Do Your Research
It’s important to stay up-to-date on the latest scams and threats to your security. Technology and the internet are an ever-changing landscape and you will be best protected if you dedicate time to reviewing common scams and ways to avoid them.
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