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I couldn't tell you how many times I've been mixed up with another person with the same name. Don't believe me? Just search "John Kim" in Google and you'll see there are more than 1.2 billion results. March 8 marks Middle Name Pride Day, and whether you're in a similar boat to me or not, you should take a moment to be extra proud of your middle name.
However, while your name is an important part of who you are, it makes up just a part of your personally identifiable information (PII)—which also includes your Social Security number, driver's license number, financial accounts, email addresses, login credentials and passwords, addresses, phone numbers and birth date. Taken together, this information is your unique identifier, distinguishing you from billions of others and connecting you to every aspect of your life, from the credit scores that allow you to purchase a home to your medical records and driver's license.
As you can imagine, your PII is extremely important and valuable. Hackers are constantly trying to collect PII to steal your identity and sell it on the dark web or maliciously use your information themselves. So this Middle Name Pride Day, in addition to being proud of who you are, do your due diligence and check out these tips to protect your identity:
1. Run a Dark Web Scan
Preventing identity theft, like taking care of your physical health, requires a proactive approach. But it may be the case that your information has already been compromised—to make sure, you could run a free Experian Dark Web Triple Scan, which scans over 600,000 web pages for your Social Security number, email and phone number. If your information is compromised, Experian will alert you of the next steps you should take to ensure your identity is safe. If you have a child, you can run a free Child ID Scan.
2. Only Carry Credit Cards You Use
If you have multiple credit cards and find that you use only a few regularly, just carry the ones you need. That way, should you lose your wallet, or worse, have it stolen, you won't need to replace all your credit cards and you'll still have backup credit cards to minimize disrupting your lifestyle. This will also lessen the risk of falling victim to credit card fraud.
3. Check (and Lock) Your Credit Report
Any suspicious activity on your financial accounts, such as a hard inquiry from an unknown source, will appear on your credit reports. Make sure to check your credit reports regularly for any discrepancies. If you're like me and are likely to forget checking your credit reports, you can sign up for an Experian CreditWorksSM membership that will alert you when there is new activity on your account. There's even an app available (on iOS and Android) to give you more control in your palm.
If you are already a member of Experian CreditWorksSM, you can take your protection further by locking your credit report—which will prevent anyone from pulling your Experian credit file. Just make sure to unlock your credit file when you're applying for a loan or credit card.
4. Change and Mix Up Your Passwords
Hackers are counting on the fact that you'll use the same password across all your financial accounts. By creating unique passwords for each of those accounts, you can help prevent identity thieves from accessing your data.
As a rule of thumb, don't include your name or your birthday in any passwords and if you suspect your account has been compromised, make sure to change your password. Also, if there is an option to enroll in two-factor authentication, do so as this will add an extra layer of security.
5. Avoid Questionable Websites
If you receive a text message or email with links to suspicious websites, avoid clicking on them. Identity thieves will use numbers and email addresses meant to trick you into thinking they are your bank or other financial institution to gain your personal information. If you do accidentally click them, close out immediately and do not provide any personal information, such as your username or password.
6. Don't Give Out Personal Information
Have you ever received a phone call from the IRS saying that you owe money and asking you to pay over the phone to avoid going to jail? Ignore it: The IRS always sends taxpayer requests and information via U.S. mail.
If you haven't gotten the IRS call, you've probably received calls similar to this from supposed banks or other institutions. No legitimate organization will call and ask for your personal information, such as a bank or credit card PIN number or Social Security number, so don't provide it if you're asked. If the call seems legitimate, hang up and call your institution to find out if it did contact you.
Seniors, in particular, need to beware. Scammers regularly target seniors because they see them as more susceptible to providing information.
7. Sign Up for Identity Theft Monitoring
If you'd like to take your identity theft protection further, consider subscribing to an identity theft monitoring service. Experian IdentityWorksSM, for example, comes loaded with FICO® Score* and credit monitoring for all three credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax), the ability to lock and unlock your credit file, fraud resolution, and up to $1 million in identity theft insurance.
There are various IdentityWorksSM plans available, with coverage for one adult starting at $9.99 month and starting at $14.99 for families. For about the cost of a Netflix membership, you can have peace of mind that your financial life is protected.
Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer or other company, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. All information, including rates and fees, are accurate as of the date of publication.
*Credit score calculated based on FICO® Score 8 model. Your lender or insurer may use a different FICO® Score than FICO® Score 8, or another type of credit score altogether. Learn more.