How to Prevent Identity Theft: Useful Tips to Reduce the Risk
Identity theft is a problem on the internet. Whether its email scams or phishing attacks, this crime is a growing problem. Around 1 in 15 people are victims of identity theft, with Americans most likely to have their identities stolen. The cost? In 2019, identity theft accounted for $666.6 million in losses.
These are the most common types of identity theft being committed are: identity theft-based tax fraud and employment, credit card fraud, utilities and phone-line fraud, bank fraud, leasing and lending frauds, and obtaining government benefits through identity theft.
Using information like your name, address, phone number, bank or credit card number, or your Social Security number, scammers can apply for loans, set up phone services, steal your tax refund and go on shopping sprees. They can even hand over your information in the case of an arrest.
Simple Ways to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft
Here are some tips to follow in how to prevent identity theft from happening to you.
1. Stop Sharing Personal Information Online
Social media platforms are riddled with cybercriminals, and for good reason too. Just by spending a few minutes on your Facebook or Instagram, they can find out your birth date, where you were born, who your family and friends are, and your pets. Why does that matter? Well, security questions and account passwords often contain either a pet name, a partner’s name or your date of birth.
Make sure that your social media profiles are private and that you don’t share your most private information online. Furthermore, stop reusing the same password (even if you alter it a little) for multiple accounts. Instead, use a password manager, like Dashlane, that will come up with an unbreakable password for each of your accounts.
2. Keep Your Social Security Number Protected
You don’t need to carry your SSN around. In fact, your SSN is one of the most sensitive pieces of personal information you have, so it’s really important to keep it somewhere secure and only give it out when absolutely necessary. Be sure to keep it in an ultra-safe spot (i.e. not in your wallet or your desk at work) that only you know, and be cautious not to let anyone else have access to it.
3. Secure Your Personal Information
Never throw out important information in the trash, rather shred sensitive materials such as credit applications or insurance forms. If people are working in your home, be sure to stash your confidential documents in a safe. Never leave your credit card receipts in the store, or at a bank, and do not throw them away in public.
4. Keep an Eye Out for Phishing
With the spread of COVID-19, there was an increase in phishing attacks targeting those people working from home. Attackers issued out coronavirus scams stealing personal information using: fake websites, phishing, spoofed government communications, miracle cures or vaccines, and fake job postings. These attacks usually insist that you act now and will ask for your personal, medical, or financial information. Look out for anything out of the ordinary, and never click on any links.
5. Get Notified By Your Bank
Many banks and other financial institutions give you the option of being notified either via email or text when transactions are made on your accounts. Make sure to sign up for these alerts. You will know precisely when and where your credit card has been used or when withdrawals have been made from your accounts.
6. Monitor your Mailbox
This is one of the main ways ID thieves steal your information. If you are heading out of town, make sure you hold your mail or have your neighbor collect it on a daily basis. Think about using the Informed Delivery service from the USPS. You can see what is supposed to be delivered to your door and whether anything is missing.
7. Freeze Your Credit
You can actually freeze your credit entirely with all three major credit bureaus (Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian). What this does is block all access to your records as well as restrict new credit files from being opened in your name. It’s completely free to both freeze and unfreeze your credit. Not to mention it’s one of the best ways to protect yourself from criminals trying to open a new account using your information.
8. Regularly Check Your Credit Reports
The above-mentioned credit bureaus are allowing consumers to access a free weekly credit report right through to April 2021. You can see information like your reports, but not your scores, data from all three major credit bureaus, and an extensive history of your credit use.
9. Find out Whether Your Records were Used in a Data Breach
Back in 2017, Equifax suffered from a major data breach, which affected more than 147 million consumers. In 2019, Equifax agreed to distribute around $500 million as part of a court settlement to the users that were affected.
If you find out that a company has suffered from a data breach, be sure to find out whether your records have been part of the violation. If it has, make sure to follow the directions listed below so as to protect your sensitive data.
10. Using an ID Theft Protection Service
Another way to help keep your personal information safe with you is to get yourself a quality ID theft protection service, like Identity Guard. Having this type of service will help ensure that your data doesn’t fall into the hands of someone who might want to exploit it, by monitoring all of your personal information, giving real-time alerts of data misuse or suspicious activity, and providing credit reports and scores.
Identity Theft Warnings: What to Look Out For
Now that you know the ways to protect yourself from identity theft, you need to know what to look out for. Here are the signs that you might be experiencing:
Credit Card Theft
Credit card theft is when your card details have been stolen (either physically or online), and someone is making purchases or taking out loans with your line of credit.
What to look for:
Maybe your bank statements are not looking right, or your checks keep bouncing. Or you might see unfamiliar or unauthorized activity going on with your credit card or credit report. It’s also possible that you’ve received unfamiliar bills, or your regular bills are missing.
Synthetic Identity Theft
This is basically when hackers will patch together a bunch of unrelated identities from multiple parties and create a fake consumer. They do this by using a social security number stolen from either a child or one they’ve concocted that is not yet being flagged on any database.
What to look for:
If you happen to try and freeze your child’s social security number, and it says that it is already in use, you can bet that a cybercriminal has been using it to take out loans and credit cards.
Child Identity Theft
If you have children, you want to be extra cautious when it comes to their information, as criminals can steal their personal information (social security number, bank information, etc.) and use it to open up a credit like in your child’s name. Sometimes years can go by before it’s discovered, as your child has no use for credit checks until he or she wants to apply for a school loan.
What to look out for:
If you start receiving mail in your child’s name offering credit card sign-ups, or you get calls or emails inquiring about late payments or debts that you have not taken out, this might be happening to you. Be sure to freeze all cards in your child’s name as soon as you get that first warning sign.
Medical Identity Theft
This type of theft is particularly bad because someone is using your identity to receive healthcare and other medical services. Not only is this difficult to fix, but it can also be extremely dangerous to your health, as your medical records and the criminal’s can become mixed up, and hospitals can make errors diagnosing you because they have the wrong information.
What to look for:
Check your health insurance record sand see if any unknown claims or payments have been made on your behalf. Check if any changes have been made to your plan, or if any benefits have been added by someone who isn’t you.
Taxpayer Identity Theft
Criminals can use your social security number and file a tax return in your name, following that by stealing your tax refund or credit.
What to look for:
You might be having trouble e-filing your taxes because they have already been filed by someone else under your social security number. You might also receive mail from the IRS in regards to that filing with information that does not pertain to you (i.e. an employer you don’t work under). It’s best to file your taxes early so you can beat cybercriminals to the punch.
How Does Identity Theft Happen
So, how does identity theft even happen? Well, there are a number of ways in which your personal information can be stolen:
Using Public Wifi
Using public wifi can be incredibly dangerous as identity thieves use this as a gateway to break into your connection and steal your information. Always use your own phone data when online shopping or doing internet banking and for best security use a Virtual Private Connection (VPN). We recommend ExpressVPN as the most secure and reliable on the market.
Wallets usually contain a lot of information, so it’s important not to carry your Social Security details, bank pins, or passwords. It’s also wise to make photocopies of your most valued documents and keep them in a secure location.
Although a lot of transactions are now online, many of us still receive important information in the mail, which is why scammers tend to forward your mail to a different address. To avoid this happening to you, use the USPS Informed Delivery, which provides you with images of mail items that you should be receiving.
SIM Card Swap
This happens when someone steals your phone number and results in you not receiving important calls or texts. Think about using an authentication app for accounts that handle sensitive information and always use a PIN and password with your cell.
Identity thieves will call you and attempt to scare you with threats of arrest unless you share your personal, banking, credit card, or SSN information. Remember that legitimate services or organizations will never ask for your sensitive information via telephone.
Phishing and Spoofing Attacks
ID thieves are pretty cluey when it comes to recreating trusted websites and emails from government agencies or your bank. Never give out any sensitive information via email, and if you suspect something, make sure to contact your bank or the trusted organization via telephone.
What To Do if it Happens to You
In order to minimize damage, these are the steps you need to take if you’re a victim of identity theft:
- Contact the Federal Trade Commission and file a report.
- Speak to someone at your local police department.
- Alert the IRS as well as your identity theft insurance (if you have it).
- Ensure a fraud alert is placed on your credit reports.
- Freeze your credit.
- Make sure to sign up for a credit monitoring service.
- Intensify security on all of your accounts.
- Monitor your credit card and bank statements for any unauthorized charges.
- Open new financial and credit card accounts.
One of the key problems with identity theft is that it can go unnoticed for long periods of time. Months or even years can pass without you noticing that identity theft is happening to you and harming your credit or financial reputation.
This is one of the main reasons why we suggest considering a quality ID theft protection service that will protect not only your devices but also online connections and your identity.
“The reason consumers are latching on to identity protection services is because fraud has risen, there have been anywhere from 15 to 20 billion records stolen in the past five years, and it just keeps getting worse,” says Robert Siciliano, CEO of Safr.me and designer of an identity protection security awareness training program.
Right now, there is a massive demand on the dark web for personal information. This is because your personal data can be used to commit not only identity theft but also other cybercrimes as well.
What many of us forget is that cybercriminals will go to great lengths to attain your sensitive data. This includes your contact information, Social Security number, bank account details, credit card numbers, and your date of birth to carry out lucrative crimes.
As one of the fastest-growing online crimes that affect millions of Americans each year, identity theft is something you need to be aware of in order to protect yourself. The biggest issue with identity theft is that most of the time, it doesn’t become apparent until it’s too late.
By knowing the warning signs and investing in ID theft protection, you can significantly reduce the chances of identity theft affecting you or your loved ones.