This is a guest post from Allie Blankenship, a freelance writer and consulting analyst who is fascinated by business and finance. In her free time, she is teaching herself to code.
In today’s world of electronic communications and banking, identity theft is a real threat. Even more so if you are traveling. So those who are looking to go on sabbatical or those already in the middle of their leave may fall victim to this form of fraud.
If private information such as account, Social Security and credit card numbers is stolen, a thief can drain bank accounts, make purchases and even open new accounts using the stolen information. According to a recent Federal Trade Commission bulletin, billions of dollars and thousands of hours are spent every year repairing the damage done by identity thieves.
Here are five ways professors on sabbatical can protect their identities on the Web and in the real world:
Check Your Credit Report
The quickest way to be certain your identifying information is secure is to check your credit report. If you have been the victim of identity theft, or if credit has been established in your name without your permission, it will appear on your credit report. The Fair Credit and Reporting Act guarantees every U.S. citizen the right to access his or her own report once every year. Also consider using a service like Lifelock to protect your finances. Services like this will monitor your credit and alert you if anyone uses your information.
Destroy Sensitive Information
Sensitive information is any information that contains your name, address, birth date, Social Security number or any identifying account numbers. If you are disposing of old papers or receipts, be sure they are shredded or burned. The same goes for old computer hardware. Data stored on your computer can be retrieved by crooks. If you are getting rid of an old machine, destroy its hard drive. Simply erasing the information may not be enough. As a recent article on the Seniors Guide put it, “think sledgehammer.”
Use a Secure Computer
Many people use library computers to pay bills and make account transfers. If you do, be sure the computer is secure. When you are done using it, log out of your accounts and close the browser. This will keep other patrons from accessing the pages you have just used. If you are using your own laptop in a public setting, remember public servers may not be secure. It is best to do all important computer work from the safety of your own home.
Report Stolen Credit Cards
If your wallet has been lost or stolen, call all of your credit card companies right away. They will cancel your accounts immediately and issue you new cards with new account numbers. That way, even if your cards fall into the wrong hands, they will be unusable. Keep a separate record of your credit cards, account numbers and the credit card companies’ contact numbers. Without your wallet, you will need that information to make important phone calls to cancel your cards.
If It Sounds Too Good to Be True, It Probably Is
We all love a bargain, and when we’re offered something at a great price, it may seem too good to pass up. This is why following tip No. 5 may be the hardest one of all. Thieves will use that knowledge to rob people of important information. If you are offered anything for free through email, it’s probably a scam. Furthermore, “free” medical services that are not offered by the federal government can actually be costly.
Either way, it is best to always think twice before participating in a special offer or bargain that seems too good to be true. With these tips in mind, those on sabbatical and their families can feel more secure about their identity safety.