Money

3 Smart Ways to Avoid Identity Theft

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Regardless of where or when you shop, the threat of identity thieves is always there. Take a look to learn how you can protect yourself before you checkout!

1. In a Store: Shield Your Card

The newest generation of pick-pockets can steal without even touching you, using sensors that retrieve the radio frequency identification (RFID) technology that’s embedded in many credit cards. “While you’re waiting in line, your credit card information can be stolen out of thin air,” warns Mike Lamood, a former identity-theft victim who founded WalletGear, a line of RFID-protected accessories. To keep your cards safe, consider storing them in a paper sleeve like the Samsonite RFID ($5.50, Samsonite). 

Also smart: “If a clerk asks for your ZIP code, phone number, birthday, or email address, don’t give it,” Alexis Moore, whose experience being victimized by identity theft inspired her to become a cybercrime attorney. “Very little is needed to steal someone’s identity.” 

2. Online: Beware of Fake Links

Cyber criminals inundate shoppers with pop-up ads and emails linked to counterfeit sites. You think you’re shopping at a real store, but your credit information is sent to scammers. “The sheer volume of purchases and the desire to find the best deal make people less skeptical, says Emily Patterson, a cybersecurity expert at ASecureLife.com. To stay safe, shop at reputable sites that begin with “https” (meaning “secure”) not “http” and have a “lock” icon in the web address bar. 

Also smart: Don’t store your address or credit card number on any site, in case it gets hacked. Instead, check out as “guest.”

3. On a Device: Check Your Connections

Shopping on your phone or tablet while you wait in a coffee shop may be efficient, but if you use public Wi-Fi, snoopers can steal data over open airwaves. That’s why security analyst Robert Siciliano, author of 99 Things You Wish You New Before Your Identity Was Stolen ($3.57, Amazon), advises using a virtual private network (VPN) to securely encrypt connections in public. Just download the software to your phone. Two that get high reviews: HotSpot Shield (which is free) and NordVPN (starting at $3 a month).

Avoid other forms of identity theft with these savvy strategies against three common scams:

  1. To prevent mail fraud: Many email providers, like Gmail and Outlook, now offer two-factor authentication, where you can’t log in until you enter a temporary code that’s sent via text. To enable the protection, look for the option under “account settings.”
  2. To prevent medical fraud: Protect your insurance card as fiercely as a credit card, says cybersecurity expert Emily Patterson. “If you lose it, tell your insurer immediately.” And read medical bills carefully. “It’s easy to miss fraudulent expenses.”
  3. To prevent mail fraud: If you get an official-looking letter from Medicare or the Social Security Administration (SSA) asking you to call, don’t. Instead, dial the trusted numbers (800-772-1213 for SSA, 800-633-4227 for Medicare) and ask if the letter is authentic.

This article originally appeared in our print magazine.

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