The best way to get free advice on how to protect your identity is, of course, listening to our radio show! However, we came up with a list of 10 other free (or almost free) steps you can take that may be helpful to protect yourself from the risk of loss from identity theft.
10) Creditkarma.com. This is a free website that will help you monitor your credit score for free. Both Transunion and Equifax credit scores are available at any time, and you can check them as many times as you want. This website will also help you understand where you need to improve your credit because it scores you on Credit card utilization, Payment History, Derogatory Marks, Age of Credit History, Total Accounts, and Credit Inquiries. This is a great site, and it is free to use.
9) Get rid of your debit card. Replace it with either an ATM card or a credit card. If you know that you can control your spending, use a credit card that you pay off every month. If not, just use cash. This will help you not only reduce the risk of loss, but help you control your spending as well.
8) Set up an active duty alert. Active military who are deployed can call any one of the credit reporting agencies and request an active duty alert (that agency must then report this to the other agencies). This alert lasts for one year, and can be renewed as long as you are deployed. If you do this, businesses will have to take extra steps before opening any credit in your name.
7) Check all of your financial statements monthly. If you see any charges you don’t recognize, contact the merchant. If they don’t respond, contact the Credit Card Company or bank. They will investigate the charge for you. They can then cancel your card and re-issue it if the credit card number has been compromised.
6) Take advantage of offers from companies you do business with that have been hacked. I got a notice from Target a while back that my card information may have been compromised. They gave me a free year of a credit monitoring service, but I had to respond and sign up to get it.
5) A credit freeze. This isn’t completely free, but it will cost you more in time and effort than it will in money. You can do this by contacting all 3 of the credit reporting agencies, giving them your information, and paying a very small fee. If you want to apply for any new credit, you will have to contact them all and have the freeze lifted by supplying them with a pin number that they issued to you. This can be a cumbersome process, so this step is recommended only if you have reason to believe your identity has been stolen or have no real need to access credit in the near future.
4) Use secure passwords online. Make sure that you use secure passwords that are a combination of numbers, upper and lower case letters, and symbols, and use different passwords for every site. Don’t write your passwords down and leave them on a list next to your computer, and don’t leave your PIN number written down in your wallet.
3) Don’t carry around your social security card. This is just asking to get your identity stolen. When was the last time you needed to use it? Almost no legitimate business these days would ask you to show them your SS card as proof of identity. In fact, that should be a red flag if they do.
2) Use antivirus software and a firewall on your home network. These things can be done for free. I trust CNET.com to recommend software, and they recommend Avast Free Antivrus 2015 with 4.5 stars. Windows has a firewall that is included with the software, but there are several free downloads on CNET that could enhance the windows version.
1) Never ever click on an email with a link that you are not 100% sure is secure. If you get an email that you are unsure of, go to the website by typing the URL in your browser by yourself instead of clicking on the link. That is a great way to avoid what are known as phishing scams.