While live in a world where cyber-attacks area daily occurrence, there are ways to keep sensitive personal information secure. Knowing ways to protect yourself, and your friends and family, doesn’t have to be hard or complicated.

Below are tips, suggestions, and ideas to help safeguard your personal and financial data.

Identity Theft and Fraud Protection 

Think of how many times each day your personal information is exposed. That post on Facebook with your birthday, for example. Or the order you placed online for a new pair of shoes, a fishing rod,or a baseball glove. 

Every time you make a transaction, whether it is writing a check at the charging gas on your debit card, you share personal information. Data such as your name, address, or bank account number exposes you to criminals who maybe trying to steal your identity. 

And while there is almost no way to live without having some sort of exposure, here are 10 steps you can take to minimize your risk:

  1. Never give information about yourself (Social Security Number, credit card information, account passwords) unless you are initiating the contact and it is with a person you know and trust. The bank will NEVER request this type of information from you over the phone or via email.
  2. Do not carry around more information than you need. If you won’t need your checkbook today, leave it at home. Try not to keep your Social Security card in your wallet. And don’t write sensitive information, like a Social Security Number, on anything – especially a check. 
  3. Choose PIN numbers and online passwords that are easy for you to remember but hard for someone else to guess. The more numbers and special characters you can include, the better. 
  4. Protect your mail. Be especially mindful if you are sending or receiving items that contains checks, credit cards or debit cards. If you are sending mail that has sensitive information in it, take it to a collection box or Post Office instead of leaving it potentially exposed (like your home mailbox). 
  5. If you are expecting mail that does not arrive or is delayed, contact the sender. This could be a sign that a criminal has changed your address. 
  6. Be aware of how you store or discard paper.Before throwing away credit card solicitations, canceled checks, bank statements or expired cards, tear them up in as many pieces as you can. For items you want to save, keep in a safe place out of plain sight.
  7. Do not keep yourself logged in to websites or mobile apps that store your financial information. Convenience services (like paying a bill online, storing credit card information, or remembering your personal data) should be balanced with protective measures to keep your exposure to a minimum.
  8. If you lose your checkbook, credit card, or debit card, contact the bank and cardholder institution immediately. 
  9. Pay close attention to your transaction history or account statements to ensure there isn’t suspicious activity, such as a missing payment or unauthorized withdrawal. 
  10. Once a year, check your credit with the three major credit bureaus. It is a free service (once per year), and a way to ensure there are not accounts associated with you that you did not authorize.

Should you suspect you have become a victim of identity theft, here are 5 steps to take:

  1. Contact financial institutions you have accounts with, including includes banks, credit card companies, or reward cards(such as an Old Navy credit card). Request the accounts or cards be closed if you suspect they have been tampered with.
  2. Contact the three major credit bureaus to place a fraud alert on your credit file and to request a report (so you are able to identify unauthorized activity). The three credit bureaus are: 

    Experian: 1-888-397-3742
    TransUnion: 1-800-680-7282

  3. Use the Identity Theft Affidavit to dispute unauthorized accounts, and close accounts that you know or believe have been used or opened without your consent. 
  4. File a police report and submit a copy of it to your creditors and other institutions that may require proof of the crime. 
  5. File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) using their Complaint Assistant tool. They maintain a database of identity theft cases which law enforcement agencies use for investigations.

For more information, visit the FTC's website on identity theft or call toll-free 1-877-438-4338. As the clearing house for complaints by victims of identity theft, they can help resolve problems that arise as a result of the crime.