Places burglars will search for your personal data
If you think burglars haven’t thought of targeting your house for a robbery to obtain your banking information, think again. According to the FBI, millions of U.S. homes are robbed every year.
Of the more than 8.9 million property crimes reported in 2012 (the latest figures available from the FBI), more than 2.1 million were burglaries, 74.5 percent of which happened at residences. In fact, these figures factor in a 3.7 percent decline.
But burglars aren’t just after your possessions. Your home is a mine of personal information, from credit cards to bank account numbers, and an enterprising thief could make a killing by picking up just a few slips of paper.
So, what are some places home invaders will look first to find your personal information?
1. Trash and recycling bins: Your trash can tell potential burglars a lot about yourself. For example, those TV and computer boxes stacked outside your recycling bin the day after Christmas let thieves know that you just got in a nice haul, ripe for the picking.
Similarly, criminals will be able to glean relevant financial information from old checks and banking statements including your account number, bank’s routing number and any other personal information.
2. Mail: If your home is burglarized and you have a stack of mail from your bank sitting out, then you make it very easy for a thief to swipe it and wreak havoc on your checking or savings account. To avoid this, ask your bank to stop sending you mail altogether and opt for e-statements — or, read your mail in a timely manner and then shred it.
It’s not just the mail that’s made it inside your house that puts you at risk, too. Although most of us would never think of rifling through our neighbor’s mailbox, criminals couldn’t care less. If you receive a lot of mail with sensitive information, consider getting a P.O. box.
3. Your not-so-hidden spot: People often think that scattering personal information across the house will safeguard them against theft — but this isn’t true if they’re picking obvious spots. Thieves will often look under a mattress, in the fridge or on a bookshelf for hidden documents. A better bet is to invest in a sturdy safe — and then bolt it to the floor so it can’t be carried out the back door.
4. Computers: These days, you can keep basically your entire identity on a computer or mobile device — and burglars know that. First things first: Lock your computer with a strong password. PCWorld recommends at least 10 characters, but 12 is preferable. (This goes for your Wi-Fi and hard drives, too.)
Of course, always lock your doors and windows, install a security system and watch out for suspicious behavior in your neighborhoods. Above all, taking simple, yet effective steps to safeguard your bank account information can make the difference between a financial setback and financial ruin.
Thomas Hill writes for GOBankingRates.com, a personal finance news and information site.