How to Prevent Identity Theft from Happening to You
September 10, 2019
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), identity theft is one of the most common complaints consumers make when reporting fraud. In 2017 alone, 16.8 million Americans were victims of identity theft.
It doesn’t stop there: new research indicates that identity thieves now take stealthier approaches to mask their fraudulent activities, making it even harder for victims to know if and when their identities have been stolen.
If reading the above makes you want to learn how to prevent identity theft from happening to you, you’ve come to the right blog post.
Read on to discover 6 steps to identity theft prevention that can help protect you, your information, and your finances.
What Is Identity Theft?
Identity theft occurs when someone wrongfully takes and then uses your personal information for his or her benefit. Typically, individuals will commit this type of fraud for their financial gain.
Although most people solely associate it with credit card fraud, identity theft can happen in several ways. Check out the following list to learn some of its most common types:
- Account Takeover Identity Theft
- Child Identity Theft
- Criminal Identity Theft
- Driver’s License Identity Theft
- Mail Identity Theft
- Medical Identity Theft
- Senior Identity Theft
- Social Security Number Identity Theft
- Synthetic Identity Theft
How to Prevent Identity Theft
Identity theft can be a lot to deal with; luckily, getting protection from identity theft is simple. If you haven’t tried any of the next 6 steps, there’s no time like the present to start.
1. Freeze Your Credit Account
Freezing your credit account, when compared to the rest of the steps in this list, is the strongest form of identity theft protection. When you freeze your credit, you prevent any new credit files from opening in your name.
To freeze your credit, you’ll have to request credit bureaus like Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion to set restrictions on your account and its accessibility. Doing so comes at no cost to you, so there’s no good reason not to try freezing yours.
Alternatively, some people opt to lock their accounts instead. Locking is fairly similar to freezing, except that you can lock or unlock your account yourself from a smartphone or while online. While this option is also free, know that it may not be as effective as freezing your credit.
2. Maintain Your Personal Documents
Despite what any identity thieves might tell you, your personal information is priceless. Protecting it well involves knowing where to put documents that display it and what to do with said documents.
For one thing, never carry your Social Security card on your person. You should always try and store it in a safe place that only you know about.
The same will apply for any other documents containing your personal information, such as your birth certificate, your passport, your house deed, and any medical, financial, or criminal records you may have on file.
On the flip side of things, make sure to shred personal information documents that are non-essential. This can include receipts, old bills and account statements, expired IDs and credit cards, and more.
3. Set Up Online Security Measures
Identity theft can be synonymous with Internet fraud, considering that the two often take place online. Setting up security measures on your personal devices will lower your risk of becoming a victim of identity theft.
For starters, if your computer doesn’t already have firewalls or a virus-detection software installed, install them. The last thing you’d want is for an identity thief to compromise the data your computer has stored.
If you have a laptop, make sure you update sharing and firewall settings when using a wi-fi network that’s open to the public. You may even want to try using a virtual private network (VPN) to protect your information from online monitoring.
As for smartphones and tablets, don’t neglect their own security features. Make sure to also regularly update their software, use secure connections only, and download apps from reputable companies.
No matter which of these devices you use to go online, remember to never click on any suspicious links you might see.
4. Use Strong Passwords
The days when “password” was an acceptable password have long gone. No matter how many online accounts you have, make sure each one utilizes a strong, complex password.
Most strong passwords focus on having:
- Length (the longer, the better)
- A Mix of Letters (both upper- and lower-case)
- No Personal Information
While you don’t need to change your password frequently, you should definitely change it if a service one of your accounts belongs to experiences a data breach.
5. Review Financial Documents
If identity thieves want to abuse your finances, one way to stay one step ahead of them is by regularly reviewing your financial documents.
Always review your credit card and bank account statements when they come in. Hold on to receipts and make sure they match up with the expenses recorded in these statements. An unauthorized transaction in them may be a sign of 2 things: an overlooked mistake or identity theft.
Similarly, keep an eye on your billing cycles. If you notice that you’re receiving them or their corresponding statements late, you may be in some trouble.
6. Avoid Sharing Your Information
This may be a no-brainer, but don’t share personal or sensitive information with anyone.
If anyone asks for your birth date, your Social Security number (SSN), or your credit card or bank account numbers, it’s probably a good idea to avoid disclosing any of the previous.
Implementing the above 6 steps can help prevent identity theft from happening to you. If it happens anyway, however, report identity theft to the FTC at Identitytheft.gov.