4 Smart Steps to Stymie the Scammers and Snoopers
Privacy has never been harder to keep. It's easier than ever for con artists to use publicly available information to get at your financially sensitive data -- and then use it to decide if you're a good target for a costly scam.
But the war isn't lost. You can still take some smart steps to safeguard your private financial information from scammers, snoopers, or other sources of unwanted attention.
1. Stop Giving Out So Much of Your Information
Whenever you shop online, it's easy and convenient to leave your credit-card number and other sensitive information on file. But the sheer number of cyber-break-ins resulting in stolen customer data should tell you that's a bad idea.
One way smart shoppers protect themselves is to dedicate one credit or debit card solely for online purchases. That way, if there's a data breach, you can just cancel that one card and get on with your life.
2. Use Trusts
Rich people are well aware of the fact that many legal documents, including wills, real estate transfers, property tax records, and even marriage and divorce records, are available to the general public under many circumstances.
Depending on your state's laws, everything from how much you paid for your house to where you inherited your mint-condition '69 Camaro from could be open for inspection by anybody who cares to take a look.
Most people believe that setting up trusts is something that only rich people do. But they can serve many purposes for anyone who wants to maintain privacy.
Revocable or "living" trusts can keep your heirs from having to go to probate court after you die, keeping the details of your estate plan private. Similarly, special trusts for conducting real estate transactions can keep your name off property deeds, making it harder for curious characters with bad intent to scope you out.
3. Make Business Less Personal
Small-business owners often start out as sole proprietors, saving money by keeping their business affairs in their own names for the sake of simplicity. But by doing so, not only do you expose your name to the public eye, but you also put your personal assets at risk if someone sues the business.
Setting up a corporation or limited liability company, on the other hand, gives you both anonymity and asset protection.
Those benefits are so attractive that some people use LLCs or corporations as investment vehicles. By doing so, you can conduct business through agents without disclosing your identity, and that can sometimes give you a key negotiating advantage in grabbing up the most lucrative investments.
4. Nip Problems in the Bud
No matter how careful you are about protecting your information, there's always a chance that scammers will get the upper hand. That's why it's so important to keep track of what's going on with your financial accounts.
Fortunately, to check up on the safety of your personal finances, you can use some of the same tools that make it easier for the bad guys to get your info.
Most banks, brokers and credit card companies make it easy to check on your accounts as often as you want online, letting you confirm legitimate purchases and transactions and dispute bad ones. In addition, by getting your credit report online, you can see if an identity thief has taken your personal info to open up an unsolicited account in your name to rack up big charges.
Those measures won't save you from all the hassle of dealing with a problem. But the earlier you catch it, the easier it is to stop it before it becomes a truly huge and destructive event.
You don't have to be rich to want to maintain your privacy about your money. Given how many criminals are trying to use your money secrets to steal, simple measures like these can give you peace of mind that's well worth the effort they take to use.
Motley Fool contributor Dan Caplinger keeps his business to himself. You can follow him on Twitter here.