January 30 to February 3, 2023, is Identity Theft Awareness Week. Anytime is a good time to tighten up your identity security, but if you haven’t been as careful as you intended, consider this your annual reminder. Here are a few best practices to adopt:
- Get a password manager: Creating strong, unique passwords for each online account can feel daunting. Even more so, keeping track of them without writing them down, which can pose a risk of loss or theft. Password managers generate and manage your passwords and securely store them in an encrypted password vault. Most can sync information across multiple devices, making automatic logins easy.
- Check your credit report: You may have been the target of identity theft or fraud and not even realize it until it shows up on your credit reports. Many credit cards provide free access to your credit report and score. You can also get a free report copy once a year at https://www.annualcreditreport.com/. If you prefer a proactive approach, you can freeze your report to block access to new credit providers. Information about this option and contacts for the three credit reporting agencies can be found at https://www.usa.gov/credit-reports
- Tax time is prime time for identity thieves: They would love to get their hands on your 1040 form, and they would also love to trick you into claiming a phony refund using your personal information. Be careful when sharing information online (see below).
- The I.R.S. doesn’t use unsolicited emails to request information from taxpayers: If you get an email claiming to be from the IRS asking for your personal or financial information, report it to your email provider as spam.
- Avoid “coffee housing” your personal information: Never risk disclosing financial information over a public Wi-Fi network. (Broadband is susceptible, too.) It takes little sophistication to do this--just a little freeware. For solid security when you browse, opt for a VPN (virtual private network) service that encrypts 100% of your browsing traffic.
- Look for the “https” & the padlock icon when you visit a website: Not just http, but https. A padlock icon in the address bar confirms an active SSL connection. When you see that added “s” at the start of the website address, you are looking at a website with active SSL encryption, and you want that.
Being careful with your data means more than just shredding your documents. Share these reminders with friends and family and help protect against identity theft.