07/30/2012 05:35 pm ET Updated Sep 29, 2012

Going Away? Tips to Protect Your Identity at Home

For Women & Co., by Mercedes Cardona, OMH Communications

Despite the weak economy, more than 140 million Americans will travel this summer -- many to top destinations -- to recharge, making it high season for identity theft from empty homes, says security expert Alan Wlasuk of 403 Web Security. "While you're away, thieves are on the prowl for personal information everywhere from your mailbox to unsecured wireless networks."

Wlasuk noted more than 11.6 million Americans became victims of identity theft in 2011, 13 percent more than in 2010. With a few simple steps, however, you can avoid becoming part of this statistic while you're away from your home.

Don't Leave Your Mail Lying Around
Besides signaling burglars that you're away, a pile of mail is a goldmine for identity thieves, who can take advantage of pre-approved credit offers, bank statements, and bills to get everything they need to rip you off. Ask a friend or neighbor to collect your mail, or better yet, have the U.S. Postal Service hold your mail and deliver the accumulated post after your return by submitting a hold request online or at your local post office. A bonus: If you forget to take care of your mail before you leave on your trip, you can still submit a hold request online while you're on the road. Just keep in mind it won't go into effect immediately, so expect a couple of days' worth of mail to get through.

Unplug the WiFi
A thief with a WiFi-enabled device like a laptop or smartphone can hack into your home network, especially if you didn't bother to change the factory settings. And if you're like most people and use the same password everywhere from your WiFi network to your online banking, once they're in they could get access to all of your important financial accounts.

Avoid hackers by password-protecting your home computer and disabling your WiFi network while you're away. The most simple and effective way is to simply unplug your modem, router, or other WiFi equipment (which will save a few pennies in your electric bill, too!). If you really don't want to unplug it, consult with your equipment guides and/or manufacturers to learn how to make your WiFi network undetectable.

Prune Your Files
Security expert Alan Wlasuk recommends shredding any documents lying around at home that you don't need, and securing the rest. A burglar who gets into your files could walk out with more than just your valuables. If you're unsure whether you may need the document in the future, scan it and save the digital version in a safe place.

This may also be a good time to consider getting a safe deposit box at your local bank. It's a smart place to keep important documents and valuables, and you can lock up extra credit cards, bank and investment statements and any important documents with sensitive information before you travel.

Secure Your Credit
You don't expect to be applying for loans during your vacation, so think about freezing your credit. Wlasuk also recommends calling your bank and credit card companies and alerting them you will be gone. This is a task that usually can be done online, especially if you have already switched to electronic statements or if you pay your bill online. Most credit card companies will also send you email or text alerts when certain transactions happen, such as a charge without the card being present, or a charge beyond a certain dollar value. That way, if someone gets a hold of your account number and starts charging up a storm in your absence, you can head them off before they do more damage. When you can worry less about the security of your money and identity at home while you travel, it's easier to relax and recharge!

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