Home Safe Home: 12 Steps to Help Keep Protected from Identity Theft at Home

Mark Van Divner

Chief Information Security Officer
First Republic Bank

November 10, 2016

protect your home from identity theft

Cybercriminals have many entry points, physical and digital, to get into your home. This article discusses a number of suggestions as to how to thwart them.

When people think of identity theft, they often imagine headline-making mass data breaches, in which cyber thieves employ sophisticated techniques to pilfer thousands of credit card numbers. An often-overlooked source of identity theft hits closer to home — in fact, it is your home. Thieves can breach your house, physically or via an online connection, and wreak havoc by stealing your financial, medical and personal information.

Here are a dozen ways you can safeguard your identity by safeguarding your home, inside and out.

Inside Your Home

The “Internet of Thefts.” You may have heard of the “Internet of Things” (IoT), a conceptual vision of a not-too-distant future wherein all wired devices, from refrigerators to televisions and beyond, are connected to the Internet as well as one another. Unfortunately, IoT can also stand for “Internet of Thefts” with each of these connection points providing access to cyber thieves, similar to how a personal computer might. For example, a thief can gain control of a baby monitor or home video security system connected to the internet and use it to case your property for a home invasion. Any time you purchase a gadget that connects to the Internet, check the reviews to see if people have experienced any security issues with it. Set the device to automatically update the software and use the built-in protections.

Harden your hard drive. You likely have a password on your home computer to keep intruders from easily accessing the information on it. But what about the old laptops gathering dust in a closet? They can store plenty of valuable information, so safeguard them as well. When you dispose of those devices, remove the hard drive and destroy it or permanently wipe it of files, contact information, messages and other data.

Play it safe. We want to believe identify theft is only perpetrated by criminals we don’t know. Sadly, however, these crimes are often committed by friends, family members or someone you let in your home, like a contractor or caregiver. You shouldn’t leave documents with personal information lying around. Keep your passports, tax returns and other documents in a wall safe or floor safe that is bolted in place so a thief cannot simply pick up and walk off with it. If your state offers a tax write-off for the purchase of a home safe, take advantage of it and save money by keeping your information safe.

Get neighborly. Social networks created specifically for neighborhoods, like Nextdoor.com, are also a good place to boost security for your home and those around you. If you sign up for this service, you can quickly get word of break-ins as well as easily organize a Neighborhood Watch group. You want people you trust watching your back — and your property.

Teach your children well. Many adults realize clicking a link in a harmless-looking email or being too chatty on social media can open up their information to clever thieves. It’s critical you also communicate this to young children or others in your house who might not realize the risk certain online behaviors carry. If you give children access to the Internet, make sure they’re in a common area, where adults often walk by and can monitor them, rather than in a private room. Also find out what parental controls your Internet Service Provider offers to head off threats during those inevitable times you cannot be there.

Mail it in. Email isn’t the only way thieves steal information. Old-fashioned “snail mail” is still a huge source of identity theft. If you have to use an outside mailbox, secure it with a lock or, better yet, consider replacing it with a slot in the door. And never leave outgoing mail in a place where someone other than a letter carrier can easily grab it.

Go to pieces. Did you know that anything in your trash can on the curb is essentially public property? Anyone can legally go through your garbage and find all sorts of information about you -- credit offers and credit applications, insurance forms, checks, bank statements, expired charge cards and more. When I throw away an old credit card, I chop it into multiple pieces and put the pieces in different trash cans to ensure the card can’t be reassembled. You can also purchase an inexpensive cross-cut shredder at an office supply store to, quite literally, cut down your risk of identity theft. Also remember that valuable information can come from places you aren’t thinking about — like the labels on prescription pill bottles. Tear them off before you throw them out.

Outside Your Home

Lock it down. You probably lock all your doors and windows before you go to sleep or leave the house. One door people often overlook is the one that connects the garage to the house. Secure that entrance with a deadbolt. And while you’re at it, consider upgrading your entire house to high- security locks. The standard locks on most houses don’t present much of an obstacle to the experienced thief. Light up your life. Thieves prefer to operate under cover of darkness, so it’s not surprising that keeping your property well lit can deter them. The question is, how secure are the lights themselves? If a thief can easily screw out the bulb, he can be back in the shadows in a few seconds. Select lights with bulbs that aren’t easily accessible.

Smile, you’re on candid camera. The cost of security cameras with motion detectors has come down significantly. It’s a good idea to place them all around your property so you can record intruders from multiple angles. This can deter break-ins as well as provide crucial evidence to help authorities track down criminals who do gain entrance. Lighting is important, even infrared for cameras. Be sure to place your camera recording system in a locked box, though, so a wily thief doesn’t walk off with the evidence.

Control your remotes. Remote controls have become so common for so many tasks that it’s easy to forget the power they can potentially wield. If you park your car on the street, a remote for the garage on the dashboard or sun visor is like a second set of house keys. When it comes to cars, my dad used to say, “Thieves will not steal what they cannot see.” The lesson is: Always do quick scans to ensure that you’re not leaving anything appealing in plain sight. This may save you from having to replace a busted window, too, which is often more expensive than what was in your car.

Beware of the sign. The cheapest form of security is a “Beware of Dog” sign. You don’t even need a dog to benefit from one. A thief who is scoping out a neighborhood may be deterred by the thought of barking pooches and simply move onto the next house. Put a few of these signs around your property, near the front door and any gates. In the same way, you don’t need to own a home security system to have a sign for a home security system on your front lawn. Keep in mind, though, the cost of these systems has declined significantly, so do consider getting one to go along with that sign. A burglary occurs in the United States every 20 seconds, according to FBI statistics. Avoid becoming part of that statistic by unwittingly rolling out a welcome mat for thieves. A few simple steps can dramatically reduce your risk and turn your home sweet home into a home safe home.

The information in this article is provided as-is.

©First Republic Bank 2016