(BPT) - When it comes to your health, the old adage, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” still rings true. It’s doubly valid when you’re talking about the health of your digital and financial identity. Giving your identity a checkup is every bit as important as getting your annual physical and flu shot, or exercising regularly to maintain good health.
Yet many people avoid delving into the health of their financial identity – perhaps for the same reason that some people avoid medical exams. A checkup, while meant to confirm that everything is fine, can potentially turn up a problem – and no one likes bad news.
But avoiding or ignoring bad news doesn’t make it go away. Just ask the members of the nearly 9 million households that experienced identity theft in 2010, the most recent year for which the Bureau of Justice Statistics has published numbers.
While you may already know that keeping an eye on your credit is an essential part of identity theft protection, it’s not the only step you need to take. Here are five important things everyone should do in order to give themselves an identity check up:
1. Google your own name – What do you find? You may be amazed at how many hits the search engine returns, and just where on the Internet your name shows up. Is the information correct? Is any of it too personally revealing – does it include your address or telephone number? Take steps to correct inaccuracies and if your name appears on a particularly disturbing website, try to have it removed.
2. Review your social networking accounts – In August, Facebook revealed that more than 83 million user accounts are fake or duplicates. It’s almost certain that identity thieves are among those users falsifying information as social networks can be a gold mine of personal information for crooks. To protect your information, use the most restrictive privacy settings provided by the social media sites you frequent. Turn off tools that allow the site to track your browsing history, and never accept a “friend” request from someone you don’t personally know.
3. Change your passwords – Many of us access accounts online that are password protected – from bank and investment accounts to social media and even health care provider websites. Always use strong passwords that include lowercase and capital letters, numbers and symbols (whenever possible) and change your passwords regularly.
4. Keep an eye on your credit – Checking your credit report once a year is no longer sufficient. This task is as much about managing your identity as it is about managing your personal credit. You need to keep an eye on your credit accounts regularly. Review every credit card statement every month. Check your credit report several times a year – more if you have reason to believe your identity might have been compromised. Consider enlisting help from ProtectMyID.com, a comprehensive identity theft detection, protection and resolution product.
5. Review and monitor your health accounts – Health care providers collect a great deal of personal information. Doctors, hospitals, dentists, walk-in clinics – all collect your full name, birth date, home address, insurance information and, often, your Social Security number. You have the right to know what information health care providers have about you, how it is used, how they protect it and who has access to it.
Protecting your identity requires a lot of smart, small steps. The risk of identity theft will always be there – just like the risk of a health crisis. But just as a healthy diet and lifestyle habits can reduce your health risks, preventive measures can help ensure identity theft doesn’t have to be a foregone conclusion.