Millions of Americans are affected by identity theft every year. Contrary to popular belief, identity theft can affect anyone regardless of economic status and even age. The last thing you want, especially around tax season, is to have someone steal your identity and put your finances at risk. Therefore, your first and most important line of defense is your behavior and how you protect your personal and financial information.
To successfully steal your identity, someone needs at least two pieces of information about you. Of course, some pieces of information are more valuable than others. For example, if someone gets your name, address, or email, they most likely won't be able to steal your identity. However, general information about you combined with other more valuable data can put your identity at risk. Additionally, information like your name, email, or even address is hard to keep secure as some are public records and can be found online. While there's is little you can do there, you can limit how much you share this type of information and omit it from where it's not needed, such as your checks.
In terms of your email, the real risk to your identity comes from phishing attempts. These are emails made to look legitimate and posed to make you share login credentials, account information, and much more. That's why it's essential to never log on to an online account from an email, no matter how legitimate it looks. Instead, it's better to exit out of your email and login in from a website directly.
Your social security is the golden ticket for an identity thief out of all types of personal information. That's because your social security number is a piece of personally identifiable information or PII. Unlike an email address or home address, this type of information is linked directly to you and only to you. Utilizing only your social security number and your name, an identity thief can get access to your bank, investment, mortgage accounts and ultimately obtain new credit under your name. The best way to protect it is by never carrying your social security card around with you, safely storing any documents that may contain it, and shredding any of those documents you no longer need. Other types of PII include credit card and bank account information, tax identification number, driver's license, and passport.
Identity theft is particularly harmful because it can affect your life in multiple ways. In addition to taking your money, an identity thief can ruin your credit by maxing out your credit cards and opening new accounts. In addition, they can get medical treatment in your name, steal your tax refund, and even use your identity when arrested. All of this can take years to figure out and make right, which is why it's so crucial that you pay attention now and prevent it from happening in the first place. Learn how to prevent your identity from being stolen by visiting our Keeping Families Safe page.
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