- Think before you share
Regardless of where you are when asked for personally identifiable information (PII), think before sharing anything. Understand that just because a field exists on an online profile page or a retailer's preferred customer card application, you do not have to complete it.
- Keep security features updated on computers and other devices
Use the security features designed to protect unauthorized access to your computer, phone, or other device. Then, keep the security software up-to-date, and run scans to look for malware that could hijack the device or allow your personal data to be captured.
- Don't ignore the risk of "old-fashioned" types of theft
Stealing physical items is still a popular method of obtaining PII. Don't leave items that contain this information - purses, laptops, etc. - unsecured in your car, and keep these items close to you while out in public. Cross-shred documents containing personal information before discarding, and securely store any paper documents you intend to keep.
- Watch for "shoulder surfers" and "skimmers"
When using your credit or debit card in public, shield the entry of personal identification numbers (PINs), and be aware of people standing too close. With the advent of cell phone cameras, a shoulder-surfing thief can get your private information fairly easily.
- Destroy or erase before you discard or donate
If you recycle, toss, or donate your old electronic devices, make sure you aren't also giving away your data. Using the delete command just enables the computer to write over that space again; it doesn't actually eliminate the original bits and bytes. Physical destruction of the device or a component such as a hard drive may be the best way to ensure you're not tossing out or passing along your personal details.
- Understand that privacy is not the default setting on the web
Explore security settings and privacy policies of websites before you use them. Default settings on social networking sites quite frequently allow any other users to access your data. Implement the security features available to you to restrict who has access to the information you share on the site.
- Avoid "ishing" scams
A favorite tactic of fraudsters is to pretend to be someone that they are not in order to trick someone else into giving up PII. Each method of contacting a potential victim has its own clever name that ends in "ishing." Phishing is an attempt made via email. Vishing uses telephone voice messaging systems. Smishing occurs via text messaging. Before responding to a request for information, contact the company using a phone number you've found on your billing statement or their website to independently verify their need to reach you.
- Don't rely on fraud alerts or credit freezes alone
Fraud alerts are meant to stop an identity thief from opening new accounts in your name. Credit freezes let you restrict access to your credit report, which would also make it hard for someone else to open new accounts. But, neither one will stop a thief from trading your PII for cash or using it for tax fraud, criminal identity theft, or any of the countless other ways fraudsters exploit stolen identities.
- Inventory your wallet's contents
Make photocopies of any items containing personal information (both front and back, if applicable) in your wallet/purse: driver's license, credit cards, insurance cards, etc. Store these copies in a secure location. Should your wallet be lost or stolen, you won't be left wondering what was actually taken, and you'll be able to quickly notify the appropriate agencies.
- Don't ignore warning signs
Receipt of collection letters, unexpected bills, explanation of benefits statements listing medical services you didn't receive, or a credit report with inaccurate data are obvious signs that there might be a problem. Act on these items to determine the situation - whether or not the item is related to an error, something legitimate, or identity theft - and do so sooner rather than later.