On a typical day you're likely to encounter dozens of ways your identity can be stolen. You don't have to be vulnerable to identity theft, though. Here are 10 ways thieves can steal your identity and how you can prevent it from happening.
1. Credit Card Theft
If you're like most people, you use credit cards everywhere, from the supermarket to the neighborhood coffee shop. That means your credit card passes through countless hands and offers many opportunities for a thief to steal your credit card number. If possible, stick to terminals that allow you to swipe your own card, and don't let your card out of your sight.
2. Unsecure Websites
Whenever you shop or make a transaction online, there's a chance an identity thief could intercept your personal information. Before you make your next online purchase, make sure the website is secure. If the URL starts with "https," then you should be safe. Identity theft protection services can also help protect your information when you're online.
Phishing is an email-based scam in which a thief poses as a real organization, agency or company. A phishing email prompts the reader to enter personal information such as addresses, credit card numbers or bank account numbers. If something seems strange in an email or the message requests too much private data, don't click on the links.
Tech-savvy thieves hack into a variety of computer systems, from banks to retail chains, to steal credit card and bank information. Most organizations alert their customers to a security breach as soon as possible. If you receive this type of message, though, confirm whether your data has been compromised and then take steps to close your credit card if necessary.
5. Shoulder Surfing
Though you do your best to act discreetly when typing your PIN at the ATM or your credit card numbers on your smartphone, there's always a chance someone is looking over your shoulder with the intent to steal your personal information. Stop shoulder surfers in their tracks by covering your screen with your hand as you enter personal data in a public setting.
Skimming occurs when an identity thief installs an additional device onto an existing ATM or credit card reader. This device can read your credit card information, including your ATM or debit card PIN. If you notice an oddly shaped credit card reader, or there's a noticeable difference in your regular ATM reader, notify the owner and don't use the machine.
7. Fraudulent Credit Reports
If identity thieves want access to your complete credit report, they might pretend to be your employer or a landlord in order to get a free copy. If you suspect someone has tampered with your credit report, contact the credit bureau immediately.
Pretexting might be one of the sneakiest methods thieves use to steal your identity. Thieves call banks, utility companies or other organizations and use false pretenses to steal your personal information. If you see new account activity that you haven't initiated, contact the institution right away.
9. Dumpster Diving
Identity thieves know that all the credit card junk mail you receive eventually goes into the trash. When thieves go through your discarded trash in search of bank statements or credit card information, this is dumpster diving. Shred your statements or make your account numbers illegible when you throw them away.
10. Mail Theft
Some thieves cut right to the chase and steal your statements or new credit cards directly from your mailbox. If you notice someone has tampered with your mailbox or you think mail is missing, contact your local post office.
If you've ever wondered how someone can steal your identity, the answers are many. Safeguard your personal information and consider pursuing identity theft protection for added peace of mind.