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How Easy Would It Be For a Stranger to Steal Your Identity?

Posted on July 9, 2019

Many people think of becoming a victim of identity theft like they do winning the lottery, getting struck by lightning, or winning McDonald’s Monopoly game; something that happens to other people, but not to you.

The truth is, about 1 in every 15 people will have their identity stolen in their lifetime. That’s a very high possibility it can happen to you and every year it becomes more common. 

So why would you make it easy for a stranger to steal your identity? We’ve gathered the most common mistakes people make in protecting their identity and tips on how to better protect yourself.

Is Your Email Easy to Get Into?

woman typing on macbook at a deskYour email is one of the main targets for identity thieves. Likely, you’ve sent private information through email, such as your full name, social security number, credit cards, and more! Cyber criminals would love nothing more than to get into your email account, change your password to lock you out, and while you try to get back in, search your emails for all the information they can get. If they get lucky, they could even steal your entire identity just from your email account.

Here are some indicators your email is not very secure:

  • Have a common or easy to guess password
  • Don’t have two factor identification enabled
  • Security questions are easy to guess or figure out
  • Open unfamiliar attachments likely to contain viruses
  • You login to your email on public computers

Take some time and update your email security. Make a long and complex password, turn on two factor identification, change your security questions to stuff that can’t be found on social media (like what your mother’s maiden name is) and be smarter with using your email. It’s also a wise choice to go through your email for sensitive information and delete it so if you do get hacked, at least the hacker won’t find anything worthwhile.

You Don’t Have a Password on your Phone

three adults all looking at their smart phonesIt’s a pretty common occurrence to lose your phone, or have it stolen. In fact, around 70 million smartphones are lost or stolen every year. With your phone out of sight, you have no idea who might be going through your personal information, and likely, your phone has a lot of it.

Even if you don’t lose your phone and you just leave it somewhere in public for a minute, a quick acting criminal could quickly search through text messages, emails, social media and more to get enough information to steal your identity. All they need is a couple of minutes alone with your phone to get everything they need.

That’s why it’s so important to have a password on your phone. That way, it becomes much harder for identity thieves to access your information. Just be sure to pick a strong password for your phone. Don’t select “1234” or something similarly simple. Complicated and secure is the way to go. It might seem like a chore now, but after doing the password a dozen times, it’ll become second nature.

You Post Personal Information on Social media

young couple taking a selfieIt’s time to get very strict about what you post on social media. Even if you have your account set to private, that doesn’t mean you are free to post anything and think you are secure. Identity thieves could scroll through your profiles for all sorts of information that could be useful for breaking into your email, or even going straight for stealing your identity.

Common things people give away on social media include:

  • Full name
  • Address
  • Birthdate
  • Home town
  • What school they attend and when they graduated
  • Childhood and current pet names
  • Hobbies
  • Family members and children information

All of the above information can be useful to stealing your identity, including accessing your email or other social accounts. Go through your old posts and take down anything with personal information and avoid posting sensitive stuff in the future. Think about posting your friends’ information too, as wishing them a happy birthday or tagging them in a childhood picture could give valuable info away.

Not Shredding Mail and Documents

person doing paperwork with lots of informationHow much mail do you get everyday? You likely get junk mail, bills, occasional wedding invitations from a family member, and credit card offers. A lot of private information is sent through the mail. Anything from your address to your tax information can be sent through the mail.

So what do you do with your mail once you’re done with it? Does it go straight in the trash? Do you hoard it for a year and throw it away all in one weekend? Do you use it to create paper mache for your kid’s arts and crafts? You can keep doing what you do with most of your mail, but anything with private info should be shredded.

Mail isn’t the only stuff with private information. Before you throw out anything that might have your information, make sure it is unrecognizable. That includes destroying credit cards you’ve stopped using and important financial information like previous years tax statements. Leaving these things whole makes yourself very vulnerable if somebody goes through your trash.

If you want to reduce the amount of mail with sensitive information you need to shred, sign up for eStatements, electronic bills, and utilize Pioneer's bill pay. That way, your information is stored electronically (and if you take the advice above and secure your email, much safer) and not sitting in your trash can.

You Don’t Use Alerts or a Protection Program

Looking to get the most out of their theft, identity thieves hope that they can go as long as possible using your identity without you noticing. The longer it takes for you to notice something is wrong, the more money they can grab, either from your bank accounts, tax return, or credit cards. Commonly, identity thieves will do something small to test your response before going big and go for as much money as they can.

That’s why it’s important to set up counter measures and alerts in case your identity does get stolen. That way, when you get that initial notification that something might be wrong, you can stop it early. Regularly check your credit score for it randomly dropping when you haven’t done anything wrong and get your credit report yearly for free. You can even sign up for apps and services that can alert you if something on your credit seems fishy.

Pioneer members also have access to a very powerful protection program called ID Theft Protection. It’s a regular part of our reward checking accounts, but any member can sign up for it. If you do become an identity theft victim, this protection program can help you reclaim your identity and money quickly. Plus, it protects you and your immediate family, including a spouse and children.

Learn More about ID Theft Protection!

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