5 New Year’s Resolutions You Can Make To Protect Your Identity

31 December 2015

As you take a moment to pen the New Year’s resolutions you’ll take with you into 2016, consider adding to your list a few simple habits that will help keep you safe from identity theft in the new year.

Much like living a healthier lifestyle or making more time for your hobbies, protecting yourself from fraud may seem like a daunting task that can’t be accomplished overnight. However, by establishing a few simple habits as a part of your daily or weekly routine, you could find yourself better protected from identity theft after just a few months, without having to tackle the entire project at once.

Here are five New Year’s resolutions we encourage you to add to your routine for a safer 2016:

  1. Improve your passwords
    Like the lock on your front door, passwords exist to protect the sensitive personal and financial information inside your accounts. Just as leaving the key to your home under your doormat or inside the lock would serve as an open invitation for burglars to break into your home, using easy-to-guess phrases or sharing passwords across multiple accounts could open the door for hackers looking to steal your identity. Each time you log into an account for the first time this year, pause and create a new password. Strong passwords have more than eight characters, and include both upper and lowercase letters, as well as symbols. For more tips on how to create a strong password you won’t forget, check out our article here.
  2. Install anti-malware software on your computer
    Even if your accounts have been armed with strong passwords, malicious software, or “malware,” can invade your computer and gain access to data stored within it. Malware can take many forms, doing everything from secretly sending screenshots of your activity to anonymous cyber criminals to tracking your keystrokes and even locking your documents and holding them for ransom. Installing anti-malware software can help prevent malicious software from taking root on your computer even if you somehow download it by accident.
  3. Don’t provide personal data unless you initiate the conversation
    Phishing attempts typically include a link or a form asking victims to confirm or provide their personal or financial information. While well-disguised attempts may look like innocuous emails from legitimate companies, they can send responses to cyber criminals instead without any indication. As a rule of thumb to avoid replying to attempts at fraud, never reply to emails asking you to provide personal data if you did not initiate contact with the company. To double check the validity of a request, call the company’s customer service line and ask them to confirm that they authored the email.
  4. Shred documents before throwing them away
    While the persistence of cyber criminals has turned most people’s attention toward protecting themselves from online identity theft, their personal data is still at risk of being stolen from physical documents sent in the mail. Before throwing away or recycling old documents, such as tax forms, pay stubs, credit card offers or bank statements, be sure to run them through a cross-shredder. While traditional shredders cut documents into long strips, cross-shredders turn paper into tiny confetti-like squares, which would be far more difficult for even the most determined identity thieves to decipher.
  5. Sign up for a credit monitoring service
    Although the above practices could greatly reduce your risk of becoming a victim of identity theft, there is unfortunately no way to guarantee your information will be safe from a skilled hacker or determined identity thief. While regularly reviewing your credit report can be a major help in identifying the effects of fraud on your accounts, Canadians are only eligible for one free credit check every 12 months from each of the credit bureaus. Credit monitoring companies, on the other hand, can review your credit history far more frequently, notifying you of certain activity on your account that could indicate fraud, giving you the ability to halt identity thieves with a credit freeze.