Every year, about 17 million people become victims of identity theft. Identity theft occurs when a malicious person or organization steals someone’s personal information and uses that information for their own gain. Though legitimate retailers take cybersecurity measures to keep your data safe, there are some extra steps you can take to protect yourself. Here are some ways to keep your identity safe when you shop online.
So much of our lives are online now that it’s incredibly important to protect the digital you, too. Buying gifts online? Saving a profile on popular retailer websites will save you time in the future—just make sure your password is strong enough to protect your account. A strong password is at least 8 characters long and contains a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols. Be sure to write them down in a safe place!
Make sure you know and trust the sites you give information to, and be cautious if a site is asking for too much information. For example, an online retailer won’t need your Social Security number. Be careful about carrying important documents like your Social Security or Medicare card on your person, too.
Don’t leave your mail unattended for long periods of time. Locked mailboxes aren’t very common unless you live in an apartment building, so if you’ll be gone for a week or more, ask a friend to collect your mail or call the post office and place a hold on it. During the holiday season, be aware of delivery dates and try to be home to receive packages. This can help prevent an unfortunate theft.
By now, most companies have switched over to EMV credit or debit cards. EMV cards, also known as chip cards or smart cards, are much more difficult to hack than the traditional magnetic strip cards. If you don’t have one already, call your credit card provider and ask about switching to an EMV chip card before you hit the malls.
Experts recommend holding on to documents like loan documents, investment information, and tax returns. However, documents that are sensitive but that don’t need to be kept (like credit card receipts or billing statements) should be shredded. Preapproved credit offers should also be shredded, because they often contain personal information.
If you use a personal computer, make sure to protect it with firewalls or virus-detection software, especially if you enjoy online shopping. These can also help protect you from malware and other computer security threats.
People are eligible to receive one free credit report per year from each of the three largest credit bureaus (Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian). Checking your credit report helps you make sure nobody has opened an account in your name, without your knowledge. Additionally, check credit card and bank statements to make sure no unauthorized transactions were made. There are a number of great companies out there that exist solely to help you manage and monitor your credit score all year long—don’t be afraid to enlist their help!