Identity Theft: Tips to Keep Your Personal Information Safe Online

Keeping your personal information safe from online hackers and scammers requires continual vigilance. Criminals can be lurking anywhere, looking for opportunities to get their hands on personal information such as Social Security numbers, passwords, and banking information. Knowing about typical ways that scammers try to steal your identity can help you take steps to minimize your exposure to the risks of identity theft.

Be on The Lookout for Scammers

Scammers use a variety of methods to try to steal personal information, so it's crucial to protect yourself on all fronts, starting with the papers that go in and out of your home. Using a locked mailbox will help prevent criminals from stealing your mail. It's also important to shred sensitive papers before you toss them into the trash, since criminals have been known to rifle through garbage in search of personal information. Important documents that you need to hold onto should be kept safely locked away in a safe in your home or in a safe deposit box at a bank.

Next, make sure to always review all banking and credit card statements when they arrive in the mail. If you notice any suspicious activity connected with an account, notify the bank immediately. If you ever miss receiving a scheduled statement, this is also a reason to call the bank: Sometimes, criminals will intercept an account and change the mailing address. While you're securing your banking information, make sure that you don't include your driver's license number or Social Security number on your printed checks. And never allow a credit card number to be recorded on a check.

It's also important to protect your debit and credit cards. Never keep an ATM card and its PIN together in your wallet, since this would give anyone access to your account if your wallet is ever lost or stolen. Memorize your PINs whenever possible, and keep a copy of your PINs in a locked storage box. It's also a good idea to leave credit cards at home unless you expect to be using them. This helps you avoid potential hassles if you ever lose your wallet or have it stolen, since you'll have fewer things to report lost or stolen.

Keep Your Personal Information Safe Online

Online activity also can present a variety of different risks of identity theft. Email is one common tool that scammers use to access personal information. Scam emails may offer services such as a background check, phone lookup, or free people search services; these are not services that should be purchased from an unsolicited email. Never respond to an email that asks you to verify or confirm account information for any type of account, even if the email looks official. Never share personal or banking information via email. And if you shop online, never enter your credit card information on a website unless you have confirmed that the website is secure. A website is secure if the URL begins with "https." The "S" indicates that the website is secured with an SSL certificate. You should also check the website to view its privacy policy and look for an icon that shows a trust seal.

Phone calls can also be used to perpetrate scams. Do not give out personal or credit card information over the phone unless you have first confirmed that the person calling is who they say they are. If you're at all unsure, tell them you'll call them back, hang up, and then find their phone number from a trustworthy source (like your credit card or bank statement or the company's website) and call that number.