Hackers and major data breaches are constantly in the news, and protecting your identity requires more vigilance than ever. But even if you think you know how to safeguard your data, you may be putting yourself at risk without realizing it. Besides the basics—using strong passwords, avoiding public Wi-Fi, and being mindful of phishing emails—here are seven ways you may be compromising your identity without knowing it.
1. YOU DON’T SHRED YOUR MAIL.
Although many hackers target your information online, some identity thieves may look through your physical trash. By scouring your garbage bins for documents that contain your personal information, criminals can get the data they need to steal your identity. Before you toss it, put mail that you don’t want to keep—especially bank statements and utility bills—through a cross-cut shredder. You should also shred unwanted checks, receipts, and health insurance paperwork before disposing of them.
2. YOU OVERSHARE ONLINE.
Sharing everything from big life news to the trivial details of the day on social media may be the norm, but sharing too much personal information can compromise your identity. Cybercriminals can gather details you’ve shared on different accounts—your birthday, pet’s name, the first concert you ever attended—and use the information to crack your passwords or answer your security questions. To protect your identity, limit what you share online and don’t accept invitations to connect from strangers.
3. YOU FORGET TO CHECK YOUR BANK ACCOUNTS.
Even if you enable auto-pay on your credit card and receive alerts if your bank account dips below a certain number, you need to regularly check your financial accounts. By staying on top of your purchases and checking and savings account activity, you can more quickly spot signs of identity theft such as unusual charges or withdrawals. Download your financial institution’s official mobile app to easily see your account activity, and check your accounts daily or weekly.
4. YOU DON’T KEEP TABS ON YOUR CREDIT REPORTS.
Forgetting to regularly check your credit reports for signs of identity theft can seriously compromise your identity and hurt your credit score. Each of the three major credit reporting agencies is legally required to offer you a free copy of your credit report every 12 months. Watch out for any incorrect information, balances on unused accounts, or lines of credit that you don’t remember opening. If you see anything suspicious, contact the credit bureaus and your credit card company immediately.
5. YOU TALK TO TELEMARKETERS.
If you feel bad about being rude to telemarketers or other unsolicited callers, keep in mind that you may be revealing more information to them than you realize. To get your personal information, scammers may call you and claim that they’re from your bank or local government office. Rather than giving (or confirming) your name, address, Social Security number, or driver’s license number, hang up and contact the organization directly. That way, you can determine if the caller was legitimate or not. Better to be safe than sorry!