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5 Essential Habits to Protect Your Identity in Your Own Home

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Kimberly Rotter (2)By Kimberly Rotter

Identity protection is more than safeguarding your credit card numbers while shopping and your passport while traveling. In addition to old fashioned pickpockets on the subway, cyber thieves are standing ready, looking for a chance to five-finger your valuables digitally. And a trusted person with access to your home can become a perpetrator when given the opportunity. “Identity theft can happen quickly, and unfortunately sometimes from people you know, such as the house cleaner, babysitter, handy man, friends and even family,” warns Katie Ross, Education and Development Manager for American Consumer Credit Counseling.

You are no safer from attack at home than you are when you are out doing business in the world. In fact, in some ways you may be more vulnerable. Home is the treasure box where we stash all of the important information and documents, and many of us are fooled into a sense of security by the deadbolt on the door.

Experts urge prevention; it is much easier than crisis management. These suggestions are only the tip of the iceberg but if implemented regularly, they will provide a layer of protection.

Use WPA 2 encryption on your router

Most of us connect wirelessly nowadays. “Lock down your wireless network with WPA 2 encryption,” says Robert Siciliano, personal security and identity theft expert. Be sure your router is updated. Previously, they employed WEP and WPA encryption technology. The current standard is WPA 2. You can find out what type of encryption your router uses by using your computer to log into its security settings. If your router is outdated, new WPA 2 routers start at about $30.

Use reputable antivirus software

After installing your antivirus software, make sure you enable automatic nightly updates. Virus definitions change daily, and your computer is only protected if the software is up-to-date. If the software wants to periodically scan your computer and you find that the scan slows you down, set it to run at night and be sure to adjust your power-saving settings so that you computer remains on long enough to complete the scan. “Also make sure your Windows or Apple operating system is up to date,” says Susan Hinrich of SafelyFiled.

Use complex passwords

Password-protect every device. It’s important to choose passwords that are (or appear) random and unpredictable. Never use your address, birthday or birth year. Don’t use common sequences like 1234 or 9999. Don’t use your child’s name or birth year or your pet’s name. Passwords should include uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols. Since every website has different password requirements and expiration periods, use a password manager or digital safe to keep them all straight. Password managers remember your passwords and help you log in when you need to. Norton and McAfee offer free password managers. Several other popular password managers also offer free versions, including KeePass, LastPass and SecureSafe, as do Apple, Google and Mozilla.

“Practice good password hygiene and consider using 2-factor authentication for sensitive online services like banking,” advises Ms. Hinrich.

Secure or shred sensitive documents

Don’t leave personal information lying about in your home, especially if other people have access. Make a habit of putting your checkbook, wallet or purse in a drawer or cabinet, not on the counter or dresser. “When mail arrives, place it in a drawer until you are ready to review it,” says Ms. Ross, “and don’t leave outgoing mail for any length of time in your mailbox.”

Any paperwork displaying personal information must be locked away or shredded. A locking file cabinet is not guaranteed to thwart a burglar, but it will deter the casual opportunist. Don’t put personally identifying information in the trash or recycling bin. “Shred credit offers, credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, checks, bank statements, expired charge cards, and similar documents when you don’t need them any longer,” advises Sandy Dalal of Identacor. Even shred receipts and junk mail (just the small portion that shows your name and address and any portion of your credit card number).

Avoid clicking on malicious email

If you don’t recognize the sender, if the message seems unusual given the source, if you are asked to click on a link, if the language is one you don’t understand or if anything at all seems amiss, don’t open the email if you can help it, and definitely don’t click on any attachment or link. “One of the biggest sources of infection on computers these days are users opening attachments that activate logic sent by email,” explains Ms. Hinrich. “The clicks cause key loggers or other sorts of malware to be installed on the computer.”

Learn more about fraud and identity theft.

This post originally appeared on CreditCardInsider.com.

Kimberly Rotter is a debt management expert and personal finance writer. She is a regular featured contributor on Credit Card Insider, Credit Sesame, Investopedia, and CreditRepair.com. Her work has appeared on numerous other personal finance websites including Yahoo! Finance, LearnVest, Business Insider, and GoBankingRates.

Views expressed are the personal views of the author, and do not represent the views of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, its employees, its members, or its clients.

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