We’ve rung in the New Year, so naturally it’s time to do self-reflection and declare your resolutions. Many attempts to become a better you, however, can jeopardize your identity.
Follow these tips to protect your information:
Get in shape. Ready to hit the gym and search for your elusive six-pack abs? When you apply for membership, be cautious about how much personal information you give. If you are required to provide a social security number or copy of your driver’s license, don’t be afraid to ask how the gym keeps that information safe.
Identity thieves target gym lockers for wallets and purses, so bring a strong lock and choose a locker in the most high-traffic, visible part of the locker room. Ask the gym what they do to ensure security (cameras, employee background checks, locked doors, etc.)
Get organized. As you clean out your file cabinets, look for personal identifying information, including your social security number, bank account or credit card numbers, and date of birth. Before throwing away any financial statements, past taxes, medical records or other documents containing such information, you’ll need to shred them.
While you’re organizing your physical files, why not take a few hours to get your computer organized for the New Year:
- Make a backup of your hard drive. A timely backup can help mitigate the damage in a malware or ransomware attack.
- Update your antivirus and malware protection software.
- Make sure your operating system is up to date. When the Petya ransomware attack hit in 2017, it targeted vulnerabilities in the operating system on computers that weren’t updated.
Clear out clutter. You have read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and now you are ready to attack those closets. Before donating your used items, make sure the charity is a real nonprofit organization and not a scam. If you give things away to individuals using Craigslist or other online sites, never let strangers come to your house. Instead, meet in a safe, public place.
Always check items for any personal identifying information before donating. This is especially important for electronics such as computers, smartphones, or tablets. Make sure memory and hard drives have been erased completely and reformatted.
Improve financial health. This is the year that you will get rid of debt or save toward a new goal. Keeping your identity and financial information safe are a huge part of financial health. Here are a few easy proactive steps to consider:
- Pull your credit reports. Federal law ensures you can get a free copy of all three credit bureau reports at annualcreditreport.com. Check for any errors and make sure that all of the loans and credit cards listed belong to you.
- Change your passwords for financial institutions and email. Make sure that you create strong passwords using a mixture of upper and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols. Don’t use your bank passwords anywhere else.
- Set up a password manager. If like most of us, you have trouble remembering strong, unique passwords for all of your online activities, try a password manager. You only have to remember one password (for the manager) and it securely stores the rest. Many antivirus packages include a password manager, or some are available online for free.
- Sign up for identity and credit monitoring services. It’s the most proactive way to quickly catch and resolve problems, should they occur.
Another tip? Ask your independent agent if your insurance company offers identity fraud protection coverage. This type of protection provides coverage for expenses associated with identity theft as well identity management and recovery services to help restore your credit and identity records. It’s valuable peace of mind!