Even though technology has made stuff a lot easier for us these days, it's also made things that much easier for thieves to wreck havoc on our lives. A few months ago I got a letter in the mail about my "new Verizon account", having received a half dozen or so mobile devices for review I thought nothing of it. Maybe one of the PR companies set me up with a free account I thought. It wasn't till a month later when I got the bill that I realized that this wasn't right. Unfortunately, this is a pretty common thing these days and it isn't the first time I've had something happen either.
Here in California, I'm told it is extremely common for people to use skimmers to steal info off your cards. As a result, it seems like I get a new bank card every few months since our bank is able to detect fraud faster than it even appears on our account balance. Realistically though, you can't catch everything that way and all the bank cares about is keeping things quiet and fixing their issues so they stay out of the media.
Identity theft though can affect almost every facet of life including your cell phone bills, credit cards, bank accounts, even taxes - allowing thieves to get refunds that you should be receiving. During tax season, it's open season for identity theft who are out to steal your refund or files false returns. Block Advisors offers a product called Tax Identity Shield to help you navigate these challenges, but here's some other things you can do to protect your privacy and prevent identity theft.
Check Your Bank Statements Regularly
Even with services from your bank or other sources to monitor your accounts, things aren't going to be perfect. There's going to be times when only you will notice something strange. It only takes a few minutes to glance at your bill to realize that you weren't in Kansas last week getting gas. Those sort of $50 here and a $100 there type charges can be easily missed unless you are diligent.
RFID Wallets and Passport Shields
With the advance of technology and the prevalence of RFID chips in everything from passports to credit cards, criminals can scan your information without even touching the documents. By shielding yourself with wallets and bags designed to block those signals you can help reduce your risks.
Check ATM Machines and Gas Pump Credit Card Readers
Once again, technology has become so advanced that "skimmers" are extremely compact and can sit right on top of the genuine credit card readers. Make sure to take a look at the ATM or gas pump to see if the reader bulges out, seems loose, or maybe even a different type of plastic. These are all indications that someone has placed a reader on top of the real machine.
Protect Your Pin
The numbers on your card are only one important part of the equations. Make sure that you cover your hand while entering the pin into a machine and look around to make sure no one is standing near you that seems suspicious. Even if they aren't standing directly next to you, criminals can be snooping by using cameras and other equipment to invade your privacy.
Be Aware of "Free" WiFi Hotspots
No matter where you go today, there are hotspots. While most are closed, you'll often see ones that are open but you have no idea who they belong to. Be smart and ask the owner, manager, or staff member about which is the legit connection. Afterall, someone could very easily set up a fake hotspot to collect your logins and passwords without you even knowing it.
Use a VPN service
You can get a VPN service super cheap these days from a variety of providers. This works just like when you connect to your office network and encrypts everything between your device and the VPN host. Because it is encrypted, this makes it even more difficult for people to snoop on you - even if you accidentally connect to a bad hotspot.
Trust Your Gut
At the end of the day, the best advice is to trust your gut. If you are sitting in a restaurant working on your computer, on the bus checking your bank account via phone, or on the plane checking email on your tablet and feel like someone might be watching ... stop what you are doing or shield your screen. You might not always be correct but it's better safe than sorry.
It's just like walking down the street at night. If you think you are being followed then you probably are ... so move to the other side, walk faster, or pause in a coffee shop to let the person pass you by.
These tips won't guarantee that you are never going to experience identity theft, but they will help protect your privacy. Block Advisors can help you not just prepare your tax documents, but help your financial and identity security all year long by helping you make the right decisions, staying on top of changes in the law and other important factors to make sure you are safe and secure all year long.
These include a pre-tax season scan to provide awareness of tax identity theft risk, customized advice all year round to help you reduce your risk, proactive defenses to protect future tax returns from being stolen and even early detection services with a notification through secure email if any anomalies have been detected.