(StatePoint) More than 13 million U.S. consumers fall victim to identity theft each year, according to Javelin Strategy and Research, with more than $15 billion stolen. Fortunately for consumers, many of these crimes are preventable.
The identity protection experts at Experian recommend the following tips to better protect yourself.
* Protect your home: Your home is your castle and identity thieves know this is where your most valuable possessions are likely stored. Diminish your vulnerability by using a safe to store sensitive information, such as birth certificates, social security cards and passports. You should also use a shredder to reduce your paper trail. Pay and immediately shred utility bills, credit card statements and other paperwork that includes your personal information.
* Be cautious at work: "Familiar fraud" is common and occurs when a victim's identity is stolen by someone he or she knows. At work, store personal items like wallets and smartphones in a locked cabinet. Don't copy or scan sensitive documents, as memory functions can save your data. At night, turn your computer off and sign out of sensitive sites. Change passwords often. If you have any concerns with the way your company stores personnel records, talk to your employer or human resources department about their protocols.
* Get smart with your smartphone: Smartphones and other devices can be a data goldmine for identity thieves. Use locking features on all your devices, including your laptop. Don't use automatic login features and always log off when you are finished. Always keep your computer's anti-virus software up-to-date and be cautious when using public wi-fi. Finally, when upgrading your mobile device to the latest model, be sure to scrub all the data from your old device before switching to your new phone.
* Monitor your credit: Consider enrolling in a credit monitoring product such as Experian CreditWorks, which offers additional peace of mind through real-time notifications of any changes to your Experian Credit Report. Changes to your report are important to review, as they may be signs of fraud. The newest CreditWorks feature, Experian CreditLock, can be especially helpful in taking greater control over your credit information. This product feature allows you to easily lock and unlock your Experian Credit Report in real-time without formally freezing your credit report, which can be a cumbersome process.
By locking your Experian Credit Report, creditors no longer have access to it (except for soft inquiries from creditors with whom you already have a financial relationship), which means criminals can't apply for credit in your name. This should help deter identity thieves, as well as block unwanted inquiries that result in extensions of credit, which can impact your credit scores. In addition, if a creditor or lender tries to access your report, you'll receive a real-time alert via email and app notification so you can act immediately.
By safeguarding your information and monitoring your credit, you can better ward off the threat of identity theft.