- Your social security card should never be in your wallet.
- Protect sensitive information—like your social security number, account numbers, addresses, birthdays, etc.—by shredding your mail with a diamond-cut shredder.
- Use a password manager and don’t reuse passwords.
- Freeze your credit as well as your minor children’s credit at all three credit bureaus.
One of the most iconic scenes from The Office is when Jim comes to work impersonating Dwight. I laugh every time I see it. “Identity theft is not a joke! Millions of families suffer every year.”
Laughs aside, though, Dwight was right. According to statistics from the Federal Trade Commission, over 1.4 million Americans had their identities stolen in 2021. Isn’t that scary?
Because we live in a digital age, now more than ever, it’s easy for others to gain access to your personal information and use it to pretend to be you. This can take many forms. Most commonly, it looks like credit card fraud, or people opening new accounts or loans in your name. Sadly, these things can quickly destroy a person’s credit and then take years to repair.
If you want to protect yourself, these three steps are the best way to start!
2. Utilize a secure password manager
Most people have heard the rule “don’t reuse the same password.” And it makes sense. Just imagine your email password is the same as your bank account password and someone hacks your email password… well now they have access to your bank account,too.
Even though it seems obvious not to do, it’s hard to follow when you have to remember a different password for every site you use. But using a password manager can be a game changer.
A good password manager should securely store all your usernames and passwords as well as generate secure passwords each time you create a new login so that you make sure your passwords aren’t the same. It makes it so you don't have to keep adding exclamation points to the end of your “Password1!.”
My favorite password manager is Lastpass. With Lastpass, you create one really secure “master password” that you’ll remember, and then it does the rest of the work for you—remembering all your other passwords and creating new unique passwords when you create new logins. There is a paid version with more benefits than these, but I’ve found the free version to be enough for my situation.
Ultimately, you want to make sure people can’t access your information online, and to prevent that, you need secure passwords stored in a safe place.
3. Freeze your credit at all three credit bureaus
This last tip is the best thing you can do to protect yourself and your credit.
Freezing your credit does exactly what it sounds like—it makes it so that no one can open an account, or apply for a loan/credit card using your name and Social Security number. And, it’s completely free to freeze and unfreeze!
To freeze your credit, you’ll need to go to each of the different credit bureaus: Experian, Transunion, and Equifax. Once there, you’ll verify who you are and create your account and password (this would be a great time to generate and store a secure password using your Lastpass or whatever password manager you choose).
Some of the bureaus require you to set up a long PIN in addition to a password. These are easy to forget, so make sure you save them in your password manager as well. You can freeze your credit for a certain period of time, but I recommend doing it indefinitely.
In the future, if you want to get a new credit card, a car loan, or mortgage, all you have to do is log back in and unfreeze your credit before you apply. You can unfreeze indefinitely, or my preference is to temporarily unfreeze. With the temporary option, you decide if you want to remain unfrozen for a day, a week, a month, etc. At the end of that time period, the credit bureau will automatically refreeze your credit again.
When you keep your personal information secure, you create a safer financial future for you and your family.