Millions of Americans fall victim to identity theft each year. It’s a serious threat, since thieves can use your personal information to open new accounts, claim tax refunds, file fraudulent Medicare claims, and more. Even if your identity isn’t stolen, thieves can use your personal information to gain access to your bank account or credit cards.
Despite the headlines about data breaches and hackers, your paper documents are still just as vulnerable. Several of your paper records – including bank statements, tax returns, credit reports, and Social Security cards – could be used against you.
Documents on paper need to be protected against identity theft. Here are four ways to do so:
1. Shred Old Documents
Do not toss out old checks or bills just because they are no longer needed. Thefts can be committed using old documents found in the trash. You should destroy old documents before discarding them. Paper shredders are effective, efficient, and relatively inexpensive.
Tossing out old paper and mail should at the very least be hand-shredded.
2. Lock Away Personal Information
Documents such as deeds, tax returns, and Social Security cards require more security than a simple folder in a file cabinet. They are vulnerable to theft if they are accessible to anyone entering your home. Your sensitive information should be kept in a lockbox or locked filing cabinet in your home. This way, it can’t be easily stolen.
3. Digitize Your Old Documents
Another way to ensure your old paper records are protected from thieves and natural disasters is to digitize them. You can store your documents on your computer or on a cloud-based storage system, like Dropbox, that is accessible from anywhere. Documents that you store on your computer are easy and free to access, but you may have less security and face headaches if your computer crashes. Do your homework before choosing a cloud-based system, and make sure it has a solid history of security.
After you decide where to store your documents, you’ll have to scan them and destroy any unneeded paper. Be sure you have a solid naming and organization system in place before you begin, in case you ever need to pull up old records.
4. Ask Providers About Security
Your medical office, for example, may keep paperwork with your sensitive information on file. Since your Social Security number and birth date can be used to commit identity theft, you need to make sure your service providers are protecting your medical records. When you send sensitive information to a third party, ask about their security measures and ensure they’re protecting it properly.
Is your personal information on the dark web? Make sure your identity isn’t at risk!