It seems like every other week there’s another breach of data – Target, Home Depot, a hospital in the next state, the community college just a couple hours away. What about your city? How much of our data has been stolen from our very homes?
The fact of the matter is our data is out there in the electronic world. Our credit card numbers, driver’s license numbers, and medical insurance numbers are all for sale on black market websites – and for under ten dollars. With all of this information floating around, how can we be sure we are safe? Here are a few tips to safeguard yourself from the threat of identity theft and how to catch it if it occurs.
Monitor your credit report for free. Although financial identity theft is not the only form out there, it is the easiest for individuals to monitor. One of the best ways to do this is to monitor your credit report. You can do this for free each year at annualcreditreport.com or by calling (877) 322-8228. An astounding one in four credit reports has an error in it. Many are clerical, but the best way to ensure your report doesn’t have a malicious error is to take advantage of checking it for free.
Know what’s in your wallet. What would happen if you lost your wallet at the local gas station? Hopefully, a Good Samaritan would return it to you. But if not, do you know exactly what’s in it? Many Americans have multiple credit cards, multiple insurance cards, gift cards, and an assortment of other items in their wallets. If this is the case for you, keep a detailed list somewhere in your home. In the event that you might lose your wallet, this list will let you know who you need to call, what cards need to be cancelled, and what items you need to replace.
Empty out your wallet. To piggyback off the last tip, when making a list of items in your wallet, think to yourself, “Do I really need this in my wallet?” Items like credit cards and insurance cards that you don’t use regularly may not need to be housed in your wallet, and very sensitive items like your Social Security cards should never stay there.
Keep important documents in a safe. If you don’t keep your Social Security card in your wallet, where do you keep it? A drawer? A filing cabinet? If you don’t already have one, consider purchasing a small safe for items like your Social Security card, your birth certificate, your passport, and those rarely-used items we talked about in the previous paragraph. Not only does this keep your items safe, but it ensures you will always know exactly where they are.
Shred documents you no longer need. Believe it or not, dumpster diving is a common way identity thieves retrieve the information they’re looking for. For this reason, it is important to never throw away or recycle old documents that contain personal information. Instead, shred these documents before disposal. These include items such as bank statements, credit card statements, insurance policy information, notices from your doctor, labels from old prescriptions, and even many forms of junk mail. (Better yet, eliminate pesky junk mail with help from services such as catalogchoice.org and dmachoice.org, among others.)
Keep your computer (and yourself) secure and protected online. We’ve all heard it before: don’t go to websites you aren’t familiar with. Yet somehow, those websites somehow sneak into our lives regardless. Keep a careful eye on what you’re clicking on when surfing the web or even opening emails from trusted friends. If something looks suspicious, give them a call to ask about it. (The ultimate protection from malicious sites is, of course, a good firewall and antivirus software on your computer.) When on the web, never enter personal information on a site that does not contain the secure “https” in the address bar. Without the secure “https,” it means the site does not contain a secure connection, and it’s easier for hackers to get in and steal information from it.
Consider utilizing an identity theft protection service. There are many different forms of identity theft, and no matter how vigilant we are, we cannot protect ourselves 100% from all of them. Several companies today offer this sort of service, which is very valuable indeed. As with any product or service, some companies offer better support and a broader sense of coverage than others. Call our office if you are interested in a service that we feel is best for protecting and restoring identities. However, no matter your level of identity protection coverage, staying on top of your own initiatives to protect your information is very important.
Keep yourself, your friends, and your family informed. Information certainly is power, and with the ever-changing landscape of identity theft and information breaches, staying on top of the latest is critical. Between the internet, TV news networks, and other media, there are dozens of resources to keep informed on current breaches and scams. One of these is the Identity Theft Resource Center at idtheftcenter.org, where you can find even more tips on protecting yourself as well as information on the latest trends and what to look out for. And don’t forget: sharing is caring! By sharing these tips with those close to you, we can start to take down identity thieves.
If you have questions about protecting your identity or are worried you may have become a victim of identity theft, give us a call today at (515) 288-3279. We can help!
A little more about us:
Located in West Des Moines, Iowa with a branch office in Winterset, Iowa, McGowen, Hurst, Clark & Smith, P.C. celebrates 65 years of extending excellent service to our clients, providing them with accounting, auditing, consulting and investment expertise.
Established in 1946, our staff has grown from 3 to 60 employees, making us large enough to provide our clients with a broad base of experience and resources, yet small enough to offer very personalized service—which we feel makes us stand apart from other CPA firms. In addition to the traditional services of Accounting, Tax Preparation, Audit and Business Consulting, MHC&S offers our clients specialized services including Estate Planning, Business Valuations, Cost Segregation Studies, Retirement Planning, QuickBooks Training, Financial Advisory Services, Fraud Detection and Deterrence, Business Succession Planning, Litigation Support and more.
MHC&S is a member of CPAmerica International, Inc., a national association of accounting firms offering membership to only 90 firms throughout the United States. This association offers a wide pool of additional technical expertise to the members firms, as well as continuing professional education necessary to maintain the degree of excellence which MHC&S feels is vital in today’s business environment.