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  • 8 Tips to Protecting Your Identity

    Updated: April 19, 2024

    Identity theft occurs when another person steals and uses an individual's personal information, including social security numbers, bank account numbers, passwords, and more. It can also result from stolen mail, phishing scams, data breaches, computer viruses, and various other crimes.

    You might not even be aware that identity theft has occurred to you, until you review your credit report, credit card statement, or check your bank account balance. Identity theft is a growing problem, and many people continue to fall victim each year. It is best to review your credit report at least once a year to check for suspicious activity. You can check it for free once a year at annualcreditreport.com. It's also very important to keep track of your bank statements regularly to make sure no money is being suspiciously moved elsewhere.

    While complete elimination of identity theft risk may not be likely, you can take precautions to minimize the chances of identity theft. Here are some tips to help protect your identity.


    1. Keep personal documents safe.

    Not all personal data is stored on your computer. Lock all tangible documents like birth certificates, social security cards, titles, deeds, and important financial documents in a safe place, and limit what you carry with you when you go out. Avoid providing personal information that could be used in filling out forms to open an account with a financial institution, make a large purchase like a house or car, or transfer funds. If you no longer need a particular document, don’t just throw it away. Use a pen or marker to make it impossible to read the contents of the document, then use a cross-cut shredder to destroy it (if you don't have a shredder, there are many shredding services that have receptacles for you to securely dispose of your private documents). Destroy labels on prescription bottles and do not share medical or financial information with anyone.


    2. Keep data secure online.

    The most common place identity theft happens is online. Make sure to use unique and strong passwords for financial and personal data. Use at least eight characters for your password and make sure to avoid easy or obvious passwords. Try incorporating numbers, special characters, and capital letters into your password.

    For an added layer of security, you can use a passphrase as your password. A passphrase is a sequence of words and characters that are easy for you to remember, but hard for others to guess. Generally, they are longer and contain dictionary words. Your passphrase can consist of a childhood memory, favorite food, place you've visited, or experiences you've had. For a stronger one, try a mix and match of these things.

    Avoid using the same password or passphrase for multiple online accounts, and make sure to change them from time to time.


    3. Check your accounts regularly.

    Check financial records at least once every three months. Keeping a personal record can help you spot unusual activity quickly. If there is any unusual activity on your accounts, having records will allow you to quickly report fraud. Sign up for eStatements and eNotices in order to receive your documents securely through Online or Mobile Banking. (With AllSouth's eStatements, you'll also have access to statements that go back as far as 13 months.) 


    4. Don’t overshare.

    Make sure not to post too much information about yourself online. Someone looking to steal your information could use what you publish online to answer personal questions on your behalf to gain access to your financial and personal data. 

    One popular way to acquire this information is through social media posts posing as fun quizzes, games, or surveys. You may be prompted to post historical data, like your mother's maiden name, the name of the street you grew up on, your first pet, and other information that would usually be the answers to security questions that you'd be prompted to answer if you forget your password for a website. Scammers and hackers get this information and other personal information like your email address to change your passwords to important accounts, effectively locking you out and leaving you vulnerable to crime.


    5. Protect your phone.

    Many great apps help you manage your finances or file taxes. However, your sensitive information is at risk if your phone is stolen. To avoid this, always keep your phone with you and password-protect it. You can also use biometrics like your fingerprint or a face ID scan to keep your phone secure. 


    6. Be cautious of phishing scams.

    Phishing is when hackers and scammers gather personal information by email or phone call. In email phishing, they can impersonate a legitimate business (like a financial institution) and send you a link that prompts you to enter personal information, or that will automatically download malware that will steal all your personal data from your computer. In phone phishing, you can get a call from someone impersonating a representative of a reputable company, and ask you to "confirm" information like your social security number, credit card information, or date of birth. Sometimes, even the phone number the scammer is calling from will match the number listed for the company they claim to represent. Trusted companies will never ask you to reveal your information in these way. If you are suspicious of anyone who contacts you claiming to work for your bank, your mobile service or any other service you use, hang up the call or delete the email, and call the number you have on file for the company and service.


    7. Use public Wi-Fi sparingly.

    Hackers and scammers often intercept public Wi-Fi networks to steal your personal information if your laptop or mobile device is connected. If you absolutely must connect your device to a public Wi-Fi network, avoid accessing sensitive information while connected, like logging in to online banking or doing any online shopping.


    8. Use anti-virus software.

    Regularly use, update, and scan your computer with anti-virus software. If your device's operating system has anti-virus software built in (like Mac OS), you should still download and use anti-malware software to protect yourself against hackers and scammers.


    Check out our Security Resources to learn more about identity theft protection.

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