You may not know it, but you are at risk. In recent months there have been major hacks in a variety of industries. Target had more than 40 million credit card and debit card numbers and related information stolen over the course of several months. Home Depot admitted hackers got access to over 60 million credit and debit card numbers (source).
In 2006, the VA lost a laptop that contained medical records, disability ratings, and social security numbers of over 26.5 million veterans (source). In 2014, hackers broke into a medical network’s computer system and stole over 4.5 million records, including names, birth dates, addresses, Social Security numbers, and phone numbers – everything thieves need to steel your identity (source).
Chances are high that your records, or the records of someone you know were exposed at some point.
Military members and veterans at greater risk. You have also likely been exposed if you served in the military. The default form of identification used by the military is Social Security numbers. I remember having to sign in with my name and Social Security number when I ate in the chow hall. My name and Social Security number is probably floating around on hundreds or even thousands of documents. I am at risk. And so are you.
The High Cost of Identity Theft
Having a stolen credit card is an inconvenience. But you should be protected by your credit card company. Having your debit card stolen can be worse, because thieves can empty your bank account in a matter of days or hours – causing you to bounce checks or overdraft your account. Talk about expensive and embarrassing!
But having your identity stolen can be far worse. It can decimate your credit score, cause legal issues, and cost you an untold number of hours as you try to clean up the mess. The cost has often been measured in thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours.
So what can you do?
How to Protect yourself From Identity Theft
You can’t protect against every data breach. Some things are out of your control. But you can try to limit who has access to your data, and you can take personal actions to limit your exposure. Let’s cover what you can do to protect yourself.
Guard your private information. Safeguard all documents that can be used to steal your identity, including your checks, Social Security Card, birth certificates, marriage certificates, passports, and other personal documents, including military records. Keep these under lock and key in a fireproof safe or safety deposit box.
Shred anything you don’t need. I shred anything and everything someone could use against me. This includes personal documents, old medical or financial statements, duplicate checks, etc. Do the same.
Be wary of unsolicited phone calls or emails. I never give my personal or account information over the phone or email, unless I initiate the action. No reputable company will call you and ask to confirm your credit card or account number.
- Don’t carry your Social Security Card in your wallet.
- Review your Account Statements Regularly
- Opt out preapproved credit card and insurance offers by going to com.
- Don’t use public computers for confidential information, such as banking.
- Use secure passwords and change them frequently.
Actively Monitor Your Credit Profile
The most proactive way to protect yourself is by monitoring your credit profile. Each of the three major credit bureaus will give you a free credit report once a year. You can stagger these and get one report every 4 months.
If you want to take things a step further, you can sign up for active monitoring and identity theft insurance. There is a monthly fee for this type of service, but it comes with active monitoring and insurance that will help you cover the cost of getting all fraudulent charges removed.
LifeLock Ultimate™ Protection offers:
- Alerts for checking and Savings account applications under your name and information
- 24/7 online access to your annual credit report and updated monthly score
- Expanded credit alerts for new account inquiries
- Alerts when contact information changes on existing checking and savings accounts
- And more
They back this up with a $1 Million Total Service Guarantee. The guarantee is a no-deductible insurance policy. If you become a victim of identity theft while a LifeLock member, they will spend up to $1 million to hire experts, lawyers, investigators, consultants and whomever else it takes to help your recovery.
Limited-time Military-friendly offer: LifeLock also features a military friendly offer, good for 30 days free, + 15% off. This offer is good for all military members, veterans, and their families. You do have to submit your credit card information when you sign up, and you will be automatically enrolled after your trial period. But you are free to cancel without penalty at any time by calling 1-800-LifeLock.
You can learn more by visiting their military discount page – http://www.lifelock.com/offers/military15/