Something magical about the spring air motivates us to clean. Whether we are kicked into gear by the warm weather or inspired by the recent “spark joy” phenomenon, cleaning up your physical and digital life should be a semi-annual occurrence, at the very least. By taking a good look at where and how you store your personal information, you could potentially save yourself from a case of identity theft. In this blog post, we’ll focus on two main areas that need your attention this spring: your physical documents and your digital records.
Cleaning Up Your Wallet
While there are a few items you might have to carry in your wallet, like a driver’s license, others should be safely stored until you need them. For example, you should refrain from carrying your birth certificate, Social Security card (or anything containing this number), and your children’s Social Security cards. If someone with malicious intent obtains your SSN, you’re more likely to become a victim of identity fraud. Other items like your passport, vehicle registration papers, health insurance information, or any bills should only be carried when necessary and otherwise be kept safe at home or in another secure location. You will also want to properly dispose of any expired driver’s licenses, military IDs, or health insurance cards. Even though they are old, they can still be used to obtain more information about you. Lastly, it’s best to minimize the amount of credit cards you carry with you and document what’s in your wallet so you know exactly what businesses to contact in the event that your wallet gets lost or stolen.
Organizing at Home
Take this time to look over all of your sensitive mail and paperwork including credit card statements, loan documents, healthcare records, employment history, and bank statements that might be laying around your house in plain view or easy reach. You might need to save some of these for the future like when you need to file taxes, but you should always make sure these documents are stored securely and not readily viewable. All of this information can help thieves build a profile about you and in some cases they might have enough to compromise your identity. When you’ve determined you don’t need these documents anymore, they should be destroyed and disposed of properly. This includes old gym membership cards or expired credit cards and especially those documents containing personally identifiable information (PII). You should choose one secure location in your home to store your sensitive documents so that you can quickly retrieve them in an emergency situation or in the instance that you are robbed and something goes missing and you need to file a report.
Tidying Your Computer
Next, take a look at your digital life including your computer and tablet. You might be storing a plethora of data on them that contains PII and other sensitive documents. For starters, you’ll want to examine what information you are storing, including the documents on your hard drive and saved browser information. Passwords and user names might be stored on your browser or saved on your computer or tablet. It’s important to remove any documents containing PII and make sure they are safely secured on an external hard drive or a password-protected USB that is kept in a fire-proof safe. Also consider investing in antivirus software, anti-keylogging and anti-phishing tools, and running any necessary updates on your computer or tablet.
Straightening Up Your Mobile Device
Your mobile device may be holding a treasure trove of data that, if stolen, could greatly increase your risk of identity theft and fraud. First and foremost, make sure your device is passcode protected. Next, take a look at the settings in your mobile applications and what information they are collecting from you. Log out and delete any apps you are no longer using. Consider changing the passcode to your device every few months to decrease your chances of being hacked. If you want to get rid of an old device, make sure you wipe it clean of your personal information and perform a factory reset. That way, whomever uses your technology next cannot access information about you.
Keep in mind that while spring is a great time to clean and organize, it’s not the only time we should be. Performing regular checks and tidying of your personal information throughout the year is a great habit to help keep your identity safe. Stay up to date with new scams and data breaches to proactively protect your data and understand how you might be affected. Additionally, if you have the financial means, you might consider purchasing identity theft protection from a reputable provider who may have tools to help you monitor more of your information than you would be able to by yourself and offer additional features to further strengthen your protection.
Generali Global Assistance proudly provides financial support to the Identity Theft Resource Center.