How to Prevent Identity Theft
October 27, 2021 • 7 min
Identity theft is a serious threat – but you can worry less if you’re informed and protect your personal information.
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What is identity theft?
Identity theft includes any kind of scam or crime resulting in the loss of personal information — such as Social Security numbers, online usernames and passwords, banking information, or credit card numbers — that is used without your permission to commit fraud and other crimes. According to the FTC, up to 9 million Americans have their identities stolen each year. The consequences of identity theft range from annoying to life-altering, and can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars to resolve.
The worst cases cause tremendous damage to a person’s reputation, causing them to lose job opportunities, be rejected from schools, be turned down for house or car loans, and even be arrested for crimes committed by someone else using their identity.
How are identities stolen?
Fraudsters use all types of methods: stealing mail from your mailbox, rummage through your trash for bills and bank statements, stealing wallets and purses, or making a copy of your credit card when its used in a restaurant. Online, there’s even more danger – phishing, social media and romantic scams, and software downloaded onto phones and computers that steals personal information. Using unsecured wifi networks, taking money from a compromised ATM, or being victim to a data breach are other ways identities are stolen.
How can you protect yourself from identity theft?
Although there’s many ways identity thieves work, you can protect yourself by following these guidelines.
- Regularly update the software and operating systems on your smartphone and computer– this will get you the latest security updates. Only download software from legitimate sources, like your phone’s official app store.
- Avoid spam and phishing (check out our avoid phishing tips).
- Steer clear of scams (learn how to identify a scammer).
- Use strong passwords – a mix of letters, numbers, and symbols that does not contain important dates or numbers like your birth year or zip code.
- Monitor your credit scores regularly (learn more about credit scores and how to check your score and get a free report). Review your credit score. Look to see if there are new credit cards, loans or other transactions on your account that you are not aware of. If there are, take immediate steps to have these terminated and investigated.
- Only use reputable websites when shopping online. If you haven’t heard of the company, do some homework before giving them your payment information. How are they reviewed by other users online? Do they use a secure, encrypted connection for personal and financial information (https and not http)?
- Stay alert for common signs of identity theft:
- False information on your credit reports, including the wrong Social Security number, account numbers, address(es), name or employer’s name.
- Bills or other mail that’s missing or comes late. This could indicate that an ID thief has hijacked your account and changed your billing address to help hide the crime.
- Receiving new credit cards you didn’t apply for.
- Having credit denied or being subject to high-interest rates for no apparent reason.
- Getting calls or notices about past due bills for products or services you didn’t buy.