Three Seconds: Ten Tips to Protect Against Identity Theft

If you are an average reader, it took you three seconds or less to read the title to this post. In the same amount of time, a thief nabbed someone’s identity. Sadly, our always-connected digital world, one that brings us many exciting and wonderful things through technology, has also enabled our very financial essence, our pecuniary being, to be stolen.

Currently, as more and more of us work remotely, accessing the internet from our home where our firewalls may not be as impenetrable as our office, this purloining may become a greater problem.

What can you do to gird yourself against identity thieves? Here are ten tips to protect your “self”:

1. Be careful with your activity on social networking sites. Avoid posting your birthdate. You should also not reveal any information that you may have used as an answer to a security question for access to any accounts on the web. For example, many financial sites ask questions such as mother’s maiden name, street you grew up on, hospital in which you were born, etc. If you use something as an answer to a security question, make sure it’s not something you also reveal online through social networking. Also, treat these sites as you would any other important web presence. Don’t logon if you’re tired, if you’ve just finished a fight with your spouse or girlfriend/boyfriend, if your sports team lost, or if you had a few too many beers.

2. Of course you need anti-virus and anti-spyware software installed on your devices.  Enough said. While you’re at it, keep those programs updated.

3. Use strong passwords that contain small and capital letters, characters and numbers. Be sure to change your passwords on a regular basis. Set up an entry in your calendar – every 3 months, 6 months or whatever you deem best – and change ALL your passwords on that date.  To do this, you will need to have a list of all your passwords and to keep that list in a safe place such as a password protected file or a vintage safeguard: a paper list in a lockbox.  Here’s another good tip: a password should never be a word that’s found in the dictionary.

4. Phishing has become more sophisticated. Thieves now use information gleaned from social networking sites to appear more legitimate. You may think an e-mail looks okay because it references things only someone intimate with you might know. It may in fact be info ripped from a post on your BFF’s page.

5. Don’t use WiFi that’s not secure to access sensitive sites like your bank account, your health insurance account, and your fantasy football league. While you’re chatting up the cute barista at the local coffee shop, someone is intercepting your password from an unsecured WiFi and finding his way into your savings account.

6. Monitor your statements. Look at your checking account, savings account, investment accounts, and all of your credit card statements regularly.

7. Shred papers. Lots of papers. Anything with an account number or personal information on it goes into the shredder. Add to it anything with your name or address on it. In fact anything except impersonal advertising ought to be cross-cut shredded.

8. Secure your mailbox. This is particularly important if you’re in an area where thieves rip stuff off directly from the US mail. If you’re feeling vulnerable, consider a P.O. Box at the post office or a local mailbox store.

9. Never carry your Social Security card with you. In fact, the commercials that ask you, “what’s in your wallet?”, should prompt you to dump the contents of your purse or wallet onto your bed and get rid of anything unnecessary. Stock your pocketbook or pocket with the minimum amount of stuff necessary. If you travel, consider buying one of those shielded cases that prohibit thieves from scanning credit card numbers off of your non-chip cards.

10. Check your credit reports frequently. If you see something suspicious, report it immediately. An open question is whether you should have a credit freeze on your account at all times. It does prohibit anyone from opening an account in your name, should they obtain your personal information. It typically costs money to do this and if you need to transact legitimate business — i.e. open a new credit account — you may have to pay a fee to lift and then reimpose it. I find differences of opinion when I researched this as to whether having a freeze on constantly is a good thing or not. But it’s worth investigating.



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Greene-Lewis, L. (December 18, 2012), 6 Tips to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft, US News & World Report Money, tips-to-protectyourself-from-identity-theft, retrieved on Tuesday, October 13, 2015.

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(August 31, 2011), How to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft, MarketWatch, 314827709734, retrieved on Tuesday, October 13, 2015, adapted from Cullen, T., (2007), The Wall Street Journal Complete Identity Theft Guidebook, Three Rivers Press.

Siciliano, R. (May 11, 2014), 10 Ways to Help Protect Yourself from Identity Theft, Huffington Post,, retrieved on Tuesday, October 13, 2015.

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(©2013), Protect Yourself and Your Family Against Identity Theft, VEDA,, retrieved on Tuesday, October 13, 2015

(©2015), 10 Ways to Protect Yourself From Identity Theft, The City of Houston — Houston Police Department,, retrieved on Tuesday, October 13, 2015.


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