Identify theft is, and always has been, a chilling prospect. The thought of someone stealing your personal details and exploiting them for their own profit or benefit is deeply uncomfortable, and most of us will be willing to go to great lengths to prevent it from happening.
Alas, in the digital age the threat is more real than ever, with hackers and forgers having a whole arsenal of tools to wield against their unsuspecting victims and entire industries developing to counter such threats. Extra precautions are even being taken with voting, going forward, as companies like Smartmatic suggest new measures to verify identity.
Here are a few straightforward precautions you can take to avoid becoming the victim of identity fraud.
Shred your old documents and forms of ID
It may seem like excess work on top of your usual schedule, it might even seem paranoid, but the first step in protecting your identity should always to be to shred and destroy any documents which contain basic details about your life
This means that any letter which features your name and address needs to be properly destroyed before being disposed of.
Identity fraudsters are not above going through people’s household waste to salvage information they can use, and with the help of internet databases, search engines and tools, even the most innocuous seeming personal detail can be enough to be used against you.
Use your credit card rather than your debit card
Credit cards often get a bit of a bad rap because they’re associated with debt and irresponsible financial habits. Assuming you’re able to budget sensibly and avoid maxing out your cards on frivolous purchases, however, there are some real benefits to using a credit card rather than a debit card.
The chief one of these reasons is that if fraud is committed against your credit card, it’s usually possible to decline the transactions before they’re finalized, therefore saving yourself lost money. Banks frequently have specific fraud-prevention systems available which are often most effective for credit cards, also.
If your debit card details are stolen and a payment is made, however, there is no window of processing time during which you can intervene and save your money. The money is simply gone from your account, and you’ll find that banks are entirely unable to refund your lost money.
When it’s gone, it’s really gone.
Use different passwords for your online accounts
Humans are creatures of habit, and it’s natural that we will come up with a password that we like, and then stick to using it (or slight variants on it) for every online account we have.
Of course, this is a pretty terrible practice when it comes to protecting your identity online. All it takes is for one of your accounts to become compromised, and the hacker in question then, potentially, has access to everything else — ranging from the private contents of your email to your DropBox account.
Get around this potential nightmare scenario by doing things the hard way and choosing a completely unique password for each online service you sign up to. If you worry about your memory not being up to the task, it can be worth writing the passwords down on a physical notepad and keeping it secure in your home.