How to protect oneself against identity theft has become an increasingly common topic the last several years, but one that still relatively few people take serious action on. Life is busy, everyone’s at risk, the danger doesn’t feel urgent, and so like many prudent financial steps, it quickly drops down into the murky mire of things we know we should do, but just haven’t gotten around to yet. So finding the motivation to face the problem is of first importance. Since we as people don’t easily tackle things we are unfamiliar with, making a plan by breaking the goal into smaller tasks makes it much more achievable in our minds.
Consider for a moment how long it’s taken you to build up your savings account, your 401(k) balance, your good credit score. How much time and effort did it take to achieve what you have so far? These are long-term projects and take continued sacrifice to achieve. Each step taken toward protecting yourself against identity theft is a brick in a wall you build around these achievements, which are also the means of hitting your future financial goals. They are worth protecting!
Now consider how much an hour of your time is worth, both in monetary terms and future time saved. Most of us would consider the tradeoff of an hour’s time for a chance of winning a couple thousand dollars worth it. By the same measure, we should consider the tradeoff of investing an hour’s time in securing our finances against possible ID or credit theft and possibly saving thousands of dollars worth it as well. Also, if investing an hour or two of time now could save you 10, 20 or 30 hours filing police reports, talking to creditors, working customer service for a refund and cleaning up your trashed credit file, wouldn’t that be worth it? In protecting yourself against identity theft, an ounce of prevention is worth many pounds of repairing the damage to your credit and finances.
Crafting a Plan
There are many resources available with tips on exactly how to protect yourself from identity theft. We went into some detail on a number of those key steps in a series of videos last autumn. Dave Nolan’s earlier article, 10 Tips to Protect Your Online Financial Identity, mentioned several as well. Some of the most common “bricks” needed to build your wall would be:
- Freezing your credit files
- Using unique strong passwords for each online services or websites
- Setting up 2-factor authentication for your financial accounts
- Setting yourself up with a secure password manager
- Installing or updating antivirus software on your devices
- Educating yourself on how various scams work
- Educating yourself on best email practices
- Reviewing your credit reports annually
Once you’ve identified the appropriate steps for your own situation, schedule them out for yourself over the upcoming weeks or months, perhaps starting with the quickest or easiest ones first. As people, we tend to find a large project easier to start if it’s broken up into small pieces, and easier to finish if we can build some momentum early on. So what are the bricks you can slap down in a few short minutes to start on your wall?
You’ll want to save your list of steps somewhere you can see it regularly, until all your bricks have been laid and your wall is finished. It may help also to put these steps on your calendar as well for a regular reminder. For instance, if freezing your credit files is part of your plan for next month, scheduling out a freeze at one credit bureau each week will provide some structure and a regular reminder so that it does not all come due at the end of the month and then get pushed back. You could also schedule yourself a reminder at 3 months, 6 months or a year out to review your wall’s progress. If you employ a financial advisor, partner with him or her when crafting and following through on your plan.
It takes time to build the wall that protects your finances and credit from identity theft, but it is a worthwhile investment. These things are the means to achieving your financial goals, so building a wall around them is a prudent course. Each “brick” in your wall makes you a more difficult target, but the process begins with your mindset, crafting a plan, and having a strategy for following through.