From insecure Internet connections to discarded bank statements, when you let your guard down or have a lapse in judgment, identity thieves are waiting to take advantage. They know consumers don't always maintain vigilant security, and many stolen identities result from seemingly harmless practices. If you're guilty of any of the following ways your identity can be stolen, you might want to review your personal security strategy.
Forgetting to Check the Mail
Put a sticky note on your front door or set an alarm on your cell phone to remind you to check the mail. Anyone can drive up to your house, open the mailbox, and extract its contents, which could contain personal or account information that help an identity thief.
Tossing Unwanted Mail in the Trash
Maybe you're not interested in a preapproved credit-card offer, but don't toss it out just yet. Instead, run the document through a cross-cutting paper shredder. This keeps identity thieves from using the information on those documents to assume your identity for nefarious purposes.
Carrying Around Personal Documents
If your wallet or purse contains your social security card, birth certificate, Medicare card, passport, expired identification cards or list of computer passwords, you're placing yourself at risk. Keep those documents at home in a safe or in another secure place.
In fact, it's best to empty your wallet of all nonessential items. You're less likely to realize something is missing if you don't use it regularly. For example, cancel that credit card you've never swiped, or store it in a safety deposit box until you actually need it.
Falling for Scams
When you receive an email or phone call from someone you don't know, assume that correspondent harbors ill intentions until you prove otherwise. For example, if someone calls you claiming to represent your bank or credit-card provider and requests your identifying information, hang up and call the bank or card service directly. The same goes for utility providers, the federal government, the IRS, or other official organizations.
Clicking on Unknown Websites
Just because a hyperlink appears in an email doesn't mean you should click on it – in fact, just the opposite. If you receive an email that asks you to log in to a website, open a new tab in your browser and type the URL of the website into the address bar. Similarly, avoid clicking on web page links unless you trust their source.
Failing to Check Your Credit Report
For security purposes, request your credit reports from all major credit bureaus at least once a year. Review every entry on the report and verify its legitimacy. Otherwise, you might never know that a stranger applied for a cell phone or defaulted on a car loan in your name.
Throwing Away Receipts
Designate a drawer or envelope in your home for receipts. Keep them until your bank and credit-card statements arrive, and then check the receipts off on the statement to make sure they match up. Not only does this alert you to suspicious charges, but it can also help you avoid paying for vendors that accidentally (or otherwise) overcharge your card.
A stolen identity can take years to correct, so avoid the hassle by remaining vigilant about your personal documents and information. Using identity-theft protection services also helps reduce your risk and restore your peace of mind.