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As upsetting as a home burglary is, the impact of online identity theft can be far more destructive. After all, it’s relatively easy to replace a flat-screen TV, but if someone has your Social Security or bank account number? Watch out.
Nearly 18 million Americans had their identities stolen in 2014, with about 14% of victims losing $1,000 or more, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Identity thieves preferred to rip off households making $75,000 or more and people older than 65, who may be less Internet-savvy.
There’s no surefire way to ensure that you don’t wind up financing a thief’s new sound system, but you can make it more difficult for criminals to access your personal data.
Shop securely: Millions of consumers love the convenience of online shopping, but it has risks. To protect yourself, use a secure Wi-Fi connection — such as the password-protected one you have at home — and make sure the website has a URL that begins with “https” instead “http.” You should also see a padlock image next to the URL in your browser window.
Use credit instead of debit: By law, you’re personally liable for a maximum of $50 if you experience credit card fraud, but most card issuers won’t charge you anything for fraudulent purchases, unlike debit card issuers. And debit card fraud could leave a big hole in your bank account until your financial institution reimburses you.
Say ‘no’ to TMI: You don’t have to fill out every single box in online forms; fill out just the minimum that’s required. Your private information is often used as currency online, so companies want as much of it as they can get. The more your information circulates, the more you’re at risk.
Log out of your accounts: It’s annoying to sign back into your account every time you visit a website, but when you’re signed in, hackers can slip through the cracks and rip you off. So when you’re done shopping or banking, log off.
Smarten up your smartphone: If your phone isn’t protected with a password, set one immediately. A password can also help protect your apps against hacking. Phones don’t have the same malware and virus protections that computers do, so they’re easier for hackers to access.
Change your passwords: Use different passwords for each of your accounts, and change them every three to six months.
None of these tips requires much work, and they can make a big difference in your security. It’s worth spending a little extra time to protect your identity.
Judy McGuire, NerdWallet
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