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10 Tips (That You Didn't Think Of) To Prevent Identity Theft

We've all heard of the basics when it comes to protecting yourself from identity theft like don't carry your social security card in your wallet or leave outgoing mail with personal or financial information in your mailbox for pick-up. That's beginners stuff. Here's 10 more advanced (2.0) tips on how to protect yourself from the bad guys. 


1.) Get a Password Manager.

Hiding your passwords in a notebook next to your desk or in an Excel Spreadsheet is NOT a password manager. A password manager is a software application that helps you store and organize all your passwords. Password managers usually store passwords encrypted, requiring the user to create a master password; a single, ideally very strong password which grants the user access to their entire password database. I personally LOVE LastPass which offers both a free and paid version. The paid version is only $12/year & well worth the money for everything it does. If you're interested, you can get 1 month FREE of the premium paid version by clicking here. I'm a raving fan of the randomly generated password feature it offers because let's face it...the toughest part is coming up with something that is 1.) unique 2.) you will remember & 3.) is complicated enough for the hackers to not guess like GnpKOq9M19G#&2$d4@



Staying on the topic of passwords...they need to be strong. Your dog's name  with a number behind it is NOT a strong password. Strong passwords are least 10-14 characters; using a mix of numbers, upper- and lowercase letters and symbols. It’s also recommended that you change your passwords 3 to 4 times per year. Lastly, never select “remember my password” on websites you visit or use the same password for multiple accounts.


2.) Shred Your Confidential Trash with a Micro-Cut Shredder. 

Ok, I realize using a shredder is 101 advice. But do you know which type of shredder is best? Prior to opening the doors of my financial planning firm, I knew I'd need a good shredder given all the client confidential information we handle. I did a ton of research and quite frankly, became a shredder expert.

At a high level, there are three types of shredders:

  • Strip-Cut: Cuts the paper into strips. Pretty much useless. My kids could put the document back together.
  • Cross-Cut: Chops up the paper into little bits. Good but with enough time and resources, it could be reassembled.
  • Micro-Cut: Turns the paper into confetti. You’re not putting that document back together. 

Here's a link to the micro-cut one I purchased on Amazon for $99 which works great. They also have a smaller & cheaper version ($49) here.


3.) Purchase an RFID Shield Wallet or Sleeve.

Have you ever heard of thieves using scanners to intercept the radio waves and stealing your card information? A RFID shield wallet or sleeve will block those scanners from getting ahold of your sensitive personal & financial data.  Matter of fact, U.S. passports issued since 2007 also have a RFID chip. (Cheapskate Hack: It's rumored that aluminum foil & Altoids containers can do the trick too).


4.) Look for https:// in the Address Bar before doing Business.

If you see https, that means the session between the web server and the browser you are using is encrypted. You can easily identify web servers that have https configured by looking at the (URL) in the web address bar of your browser. See an example below of the site where my clients go to access their investment accounts. Never give out your personal or financial information on a site that doesn't have a https:// encrypted connection.


5.) Stop using Public Wi-Fi.

Public Wi-Fi networks–like those in coffee shops, airports and hotels–may be convenient, but they’re not nearly as safe as you think. Even if you enter a password to log on, you’re still sharing a network with strangers. And just because most wireless routers have a firewall to protect you from the scary World Wide Web, it doesn’t mean you’re protected from all those strangers connected to the same network. If it's a must, make sure to turn off network discovery & file/printer sharing features which make you an easier target. It's also wise to not log into your bank accounts or e-mail.


6.) iPhone users: 6 Digits are Better than 4.

So I'm making the assumption since this is 2.0 identity theft advice...you already have your phone protected (locked) with a 4-digit passcode. However, did you know you can add two extra digits. Can that really add a whole lot more security? Well, actually yes. a six-digit passcode has one million possible combinations instead of 10,000. Touch ID is pretty amazing too! (Also while you're at it- Turn on the Auto-Locking feature).



7.) Remove Your Name From Lists.


8.) Check Your FREE Credit Report Annually.

Under Federal law, you may request one free copy per year. Be watchful of several gimmicky websites trying to make money off you. You can get your FREE credit report from each of the major credit reporting bureaus: Equifax Experian, & TransUnion by going to www.annualcreditreport.com or by calling 1(877) 322-8228. Be sure to check it over for unusual and suspicious activity. 


9.) Enable Remote Location & Device-wiping.

One nice thing about smartphones and tablets is that they're portable so you can easily take them anywhere. The downside is that you can easily lose them or a thief can walk off with them in a heartbeat. That's why you should add a "kill switch". If your device is lost or stolen, tracking apps can tell you exactly where your phone is. These apps also let you wipe sensitive information remotely. If your phone does end up in the wrong hands, you can at least make sure somebody else doesn't get your information. Here's how:

  • iOS users have Find My iPhone. To enable it, go to Settings>>iCloud. Look for Find My iPhone and turn it on.
  • Android users have Android Device Manager. To enable tracking, launch the app, link it to a Google account and follow the directions.
  • For Windows phones, there's the Find My Phone feature. To set it up, go to Settings>>Find My Phone. Make sure the slider is set to on.


10.) Be Smart about Social Media.

Keep personal information personal. Don't ever post or share your home address, birth year, telephone number, & mother's maiden name. Also, avoid unnecessary posts about your childhood pets, the town where you grew up, or the name of your first girlfriend or boyfriend — all pieces of information that a hacker could leverage against you and that your social network really doesn’t need to know. Strengthen your privacy settings and be cautious about whom you accept as a connection.

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About the Author:

Desmond Henry, a financial planner in Topeka, KS

Desmond Henry is a fee-only CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional and founder of Afflora Financial Life Planning in Topeka, Kansas. He helps the retiring/retired plan their finances and invest their money. CLICK HERE to learn more.