A resolution you can keep all year: The one-day identity checkup
1/3/2014, 6 a.m.
BPT Exercise. Lose the weight. Answer every incoming email. Those are the hard kinds of New Year's resolutions, because you have to think about them every day for the rest of the year. Many are forgotten long before Valentine's Day.
But here's one important resolution, one you can fulfill today and easily keep all year: protect your identity.
Identity theft is a fast-growing crime, but there are ways to reduce your chances of being a victim. The identity theft protection experts at LifeLock recommend doing these five quick things today to help keep your identity safer all year long:
Use safe passwords
Are you among the people who use simple passwords like "123456" or "qwerty" or "abc123" to protect your personal information? Or even the word "password" itself? Many people do, so identity thieves can often break in just by trying the most popular passwords.
To create a safer password, avoid using words that are in the dictionary. And stay away from your own personal information, like a nickname, pet's name or birthdate. One option is to come up with a memorable phrase that includes numbers and symbols, and use the first letter of each word. "My Tigers are Number One in Football!" might become "MTaN1iF!" - a good example because it uses capital letters, lower-case letters, a number and a symbol.
Use multiple passwords
Stop using the same password for every account. Several big companies and websites have recently had their users' personal information stolen by hackers. If your password for one site is compromised, and you use the same password for your bank and credit accounts, it's much easier for a thief to get into all of them.
At least have a different password for each account that has personal or financial information. And consider using a password-management program, which lets you set more cryptic passwords for each site you visit and control them with one master password.
Stash that Social Security card
Do you carry your Social Security card in your purse or wallet? Don't.
You may, on a rare occasion, need to show a Social Security card to an employer or a government agency. Aside from those days, keep it locked up in a safe place. Your Social Security number is a thief's ticket to everything from opening new accounts in your name to stealing your tax refund. Don't run the risk of losing it.
Protect your mail
Do your bank statements, credit card bills and utility invoices arrive by mail? If your mailbox is outside your house, thieves can take those bills and collect personal information that helps them steal your identity. And once those documents are in your house and no longer needed, they can be stolen from a trash can or recycling bin.
First, if your mail is delivered outside your home, install a locked mailbox. And use a shredder, or the shredding services offered by local shipping stores and some credit unions, to destroy documents once they're no longer needed.
But you can also take steps to keep that paperwork from ever arriving at your home in the first place. Have bills sent to you electronically; you'll get them by email, save paper, reduce clutter and never have to worry about stolen mail or shredding. Opt out of credit card and insurance offers by visiting www.optoutprescreen.com. And dramatically reduce the amount of unsolicited mail you receive by opting out of junk mail at: www.dmachoice.org.
Be prepared for a loss
If your wallet or purse is stolen, you'll want to cancel all of your credit and debit cards before they can be misused. Keep a copy of each of your cards, or use a digital wallet program like LifeLock Wallet, which is available for your smartphone from the iOS and Android app stores. It gives you instant access to copies of your cards and also helps you track your balances, monitor transactions and cancel cards that are lost or stolen.
Do these things today and you can proudly declare that you'll keep at least one New Year's resolution all year long: Protecting your identity.
You can learn more about identity theft, and ways to keep you and your family safe, from the Federal Trade Commission at www.consumer.ftc.gov and from LifeLock at www.LifeLock.com/education.