Anyone who's ever been the victim of consumer fraud or had their identity stolen can tell you that it strikes without warning, and more than you think. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, more than 17 million people were the victims of identity theft in 2014.
If you're someone who has never had to deal with fraud and all that comes with it—there's a serious drain on your money, time, and threshold for staying on the phone with your bank's customer service department—that's likely for one of two reasons. Either you've been lucky, or you've been careful. If you're one of the former who would like to be one of the latter, here are seven smart habits of people who never get scammed.
They protect their PIN.
That means covering the number pad when you type it into a pinpad at a checkout counter or an ATM. But it also means never sharing it with anyone or writing it down—even in a seemingly secure place.
They always know where their credit card is.
Try not to lose it, in other words. Make it a point to always get your card back into your wallet, right at the checkout or right after you enter the details online. Knowing where your card is also means trying not to let it out of your sight at bars and restaurants. It's not always possible, but a smart habit to get into when you can keep a sight line open as your card is carried off.
They don't use random ATMs.
This one is easy—just think ahead! Instead of using those off-brand, potentially sketchy portable ATMs at concerts and festivals, set a reminder the day before the event to grab all the cash you'll need at your bank's secure ATM. Bonus: You avoid those ridiculous fees.
They shop on secure websites.
Before buying something online with your credit card, look for a padlock or an unbroken key symbol in your web browser, and that the web address includes "https" and not just "http"—all signs that mean the transaction is secure. Trust your gut, too; if you get the vibe that the site is mildly sketchy but you absolutely have to have whatever it is you're buying, make good use of a virtual credit card number—your bank can likely issue you different, temporary card details that can't be used by any scammer ever again.
They don't ever disclose important info via email.
Even if you know how to spot a scam email, remember this: Your bank, work or school (or any other legit organization) will never ask you to disclose sensitive information over email. So if you have an email in your inbox that you think looks legit, but it asks you to confirm your account number so they can correct some terrifying and egregious error in your statement, just give your bank a call to sort it all out. (And call the number on the back of your credit card or the bank's official website, not the one in the email.)
They use seriously strong passwords.
Think about all that you can do just by logging in to your bank account with an email and a password. Then think about how easy it would be for even a stranger to find your email address, and then hopefully you will realize that your password is your only defense against being seriously screwed over. You can't "Hunter2" your way out of being scammed.
Boston University's Information Security department recommends these rules for strong but memorable passwords:
- Use a mix of alphabetical and numeric characters.
- Use a mixture of upper- and lowercase; passwords are case sensitive.
- Use symbols if the system allows (spaces shouldn't be used as some applications may trim them away).
- Use a combination of letters and numbers, or a phrase like "many colors" using only the consonants, e.g., mnYc0l0rz or a misspelled phrase, e.g., 2HotPeetzas or ItzAGurl.
They check their bank accounts daily.
The best defense is a good offence, but when fraud does strike, you want to know about it right away. If you check your bank accounts on the daily, you'll spot suspicious charges right away (and never have to think back too far to remember if you did make a late-night online impulse purchase). The quicker you notice a fraudulent charge, the faster you can report it to your bank and start the process of getting your cash back and cancelling the card number that might still be out in a theif's hands.