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Tips For Preventing Identity Theft

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The Internet has truly transformed the way we do a lot of things as a society. Not only has it given us round-the-clock access to important things like hilarious videos of animals and pictures of Frank Sinatra eating pancakes, but it’s revolutionized shopping, banking, and business. It’s opened the door for new ways for us to network with our friends and colleagues, given us access to instant updates on events around the world, and changed the way we manage our wealth online (Have you heard the good news about emX?).

There’s an unfortunate truth that surrounds the internet age, though, and it’s this: It’s never been easier for your identity to be stolen. As a society, we put a huge amount of personal information online, and that has led some less-than-upstanding individuals to try to take advantage of it. Even the most tech-savvy of us are susceptible—in 2012 alone, more than 16 million people were victims of identity theft. While this is a scary thought, the good news is that by taking some easy, practical steps, you can make yourself far less likely to be the victim of this serious crime.

As an advisor, it’s your duty to share the dangers of identity theft with your clients and guide them toward practices that will help prevent it from happening to them. This list of four easy-to-follow tips on preventing identity theft is a great place to start.


1. Choose good passwords and PINs, keep them secure, and change them often.

Be honest: We’ve all at one point or another had an easy-to-remember password like a pet’s name, or “123456,” or simply “password.” I’m not just making these up, either—those are some real examples of the most popular passwords on the ‘net. Hackers are all too aware of this. That’s why it’s important to encourage your clients to have cryptic, nearly impossible to guess passwords. A good rule of thumb is to advise your clients that their passwords should be a minimum six characters with a mix of upper and lower case letters, numerals, and two different kinds punctuation. Another important step is to make sure they change their passwords monthly. This will make it even more difficult for an outsider to access their account.

If they have trouble remembering their passwords, tell them that keeping them written down on a piece of paper in their wallet or purse is not the way to go. Instead, recommend that they keep all of their passwords in a small notebook locked safely away at home with the rest of their important documents like birth certificates and deeds. That way if their wallet is lost or stolen, their sensitive internet log-ins won’t fall into the wrong hands.


2. Come up with fake answers for password retrieval security questions.

When signing up for online accounts, you’re prompted to enter the answers to some boilerplate security questions that you will need to answer should you have to recover your password. These questions are usually generic and universal like, “What’s your mother’s maiden name?” or “In what town did you go to High School?” While the answers to these questions are easily remembered, the problem is that they’re not difficult for hackers to find out. One look at your Facebook profile could probably answer most of them.

That’s why I’d encourage you and your clients to set these questions with incorrect but easily remembered answers. Say, for instance, your mother’s maiden name is Jones. Instead of setting that as the answer, set it to something like Johnson or Phillips. That way a hacker won’t be able to grab that information from elsewhere and use it to reset your password without your permission. Just be sure to write these answers in your password notebook, too!


3. Completely wipe the hard drives of all old or unused electronic devices.

This is a crucial but very under-utilized step in protecting your online identity. Whenever you stop using a device, whether it’s an out-of-date computer or a phone with a broken screen, be sure to reset the device to its original factory settings. By wiping the device’s data and resetting it, you can prevent anyone from pulling banking information, passwords, and other sensitive information from it after you’ve properly disposed of it.

The steps used to reset a device to its factory settings vary depending on the device, but you can easily find out how to perform the task on your device from its manual or a quick Google search.


4. Use a separate credit card for online purchases.

More and more people are following this piece of advice, and for good reason. By having a credit card that you use exclusively for online payments, it becomes far easier to monitor your statement for suspicious purchases. Another reason to use a credit card and not your trusty debit card? Credit cards have better fraud protection guarantees under federal law than debit cards.


Now get back to watching even more hilarious videos of animals!


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