Diversify Your Passwords
It’s the oldest cybersecurity trick in the book, but one of the easiest to implement: keeping your passwords fluid, strong, and diverse. While nearly everyone uses the same password for everything to keep things simple for themselves, it also works in the inverse, making it easy for hackers who guess or recover your password on one service and utilizing that information to gain access to more sensitive information such as online banking, credit card accounts, and government services. By using a password management tool like 1Password or LastPass, you’ll have your passwords randomized to military-grade standards and within easy reach behind a master password, which is the only one you’ll ever need to remember.
Keep Your Information Close to the Chest
If you don’t have a shredder for your sensitive documents, you should invest in one. While it’s unlikely that someone would go through your trash to find credit card, banking, and tax statements, it’s an easy precaution to take to ensure that doesn’t occur. Furthermore, only sharing your personal information with verified agents of financial institutions and keeping your sensitive information in secured hard drives or a safe (or both) is the best chance to guard against unwanted access.
Know How to Use Freezes and Fraud Alerts
Imagine this scenario: you review your monthly bank and credit card statements and you find a questionable purchase or transaction on your account. You contact your financial institution to ask about the purchase, only to learn that it was authorized by you. Having no knowledge of that transaction, your next step is to cancel it or freeze the transaction. Problem solved, right? Unfortunately, even a small questionable transaction can be a sign that your information has been compromised, meaning you need to go a step further and freeze your credit entirely until the issue is solved. Hackers often test the veracity and suitability of an acquired account to see how functional it may be for their continued use. Starting with a small transaction, they’ll monitor your response and see if any action is taken. If so, they’ll move quickly to maximize your credit’s usefulness and erase their tracks before you discover the scope of the intrusion. You’ll want to do the following:
Place a Security Freeze on Your Credit Report
Placing a credit freeze with all three reporting agencies will seal your credit reports and require you to use a personal identification number in order to temporarily “thaw” or release restrictions on your credit to allow for processing of legitimate applications for credit and services. While this won’t affect any credit accounts that have already been opened or established, you can add an extra layer of security to protect against additional lines of credit opened without your consent.
Enable a Fraud Alert on Your Credit
This move will force potential creditors to think twice before extending a line of credit in your name. While this is considered a speed bump for a practiced identity thief, it will slow their progress and keep you abreast of any changes in your credit history.
Monitor Your Credit Closely
Depending on your financial institution, you may already have access to free credit reporting tools that won’t affect your credit score (unlike requesting the reports from the big three reporting agencies). Otherwise, using a subscription service like Credit Karma will provide you with regular insights you’ll need to ensure your credit score remains on the straight and narrow. Otherwise, requesting your annual credit report from TransUnion, Equifax, and/or Experian is a decent option. Just remember that frequent credit checks can affect your score, so be careful when and how you choose to request these reports.