With someone’s identity stolen every two seconds, identity theft is one of the most pervasive crimes in the world. But it’s also one of the easiest to protect against. AARP Fraud Watch Network Ambassador and expert Frank Abagnale offers 10 easy steps to help beat identity thieves:
- Lock your mailbox. If yours doesn’t lock, you can buy a lockable mailbox starting at around $40.
- Leave nothing of value in your parked car to tempt identity thieves. This means your wallet, laptop and mobile device.
- Don’t just toss your sensitive documents in the trash or recycling bin – shred them first.
- Use a micro-cut shredder – the kind that shreds documents into confetti – to destroy your sensitive documents. Micro-cut shredders cost around $30.
- Secure your smartphone with a password. An AARP survey found that more than a quarter of adults with smartphones fail to protect them with a password. When you set your password, avoid those that would be easy to guess, like birthdates, kids’ names, pet names or numbers in a sequence (1,2,3,4).
- Secure your computer by regularly changing passwords to reduce the risk of online identity theft. Experts suggest changing passwords at least every three months. Consider creating a passphrase – something easy to remember but hard to crack. For example, take the slogan “Just do it!” Take out the spaces, change the “o” to a zero and the “i” to a one, and you have “Justd01t!"
- Don’t share your Social Security number unnecessarily. Only share it for tax reasons, obtaining credit, and to verify employment. And don’t carry your Medicare card unless you are on your way to a health care appointment. Instead, make a copy and black out all but the last four digits. This is enough information for a provider to get started in case of emergency.
- Use a gel pen to write out checks. Mail thieves can wash off ballpoint pen and rewrite the check.
- Use strong passwords to protect financial accounts. Consider a passphrase rather than just a passcode or password.
- Don’t give out personal information over the phone, over the internet or through regular mail unless you initiated that contact. If you receive a communication by someone claiming to be your financial institution, don’t respond. Instead, contact the institution with a number you know to be correct.
Have you been scammed or have you spotted a scam? Share your story on AARP’s interactive Scam-tracking Map. You can also visit the map to read up on law enforcement alerts about scams and fraud in your area.