Best Ways to Protect Yourself From ID Theft
Identity theft continues to be a huge source of concern for millions of people across the US. The Consumer Sentinel Network, which is maintained by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), reported that consumers lost more than $1.9 billion according to the fraud complaints that were filed in 2019, an increase of $293 million from 2018. Out of the reported cases, people filed more reports about identity theft (20.3% of all reports), in all its various forms, than any other type of complaint.
One reason behind the increase in these incidents is while criminals continue looking for new ways of obtaining personal and financial information, most people have not yet fully embraced identity theft prevention measures. Clearing your name and your credit report after identity fraud can be tedious and overwhelming, and so you need to stay one step ahead of the criminals. This article will provide tips for how you can protect yourself from becoming a victim of identity theft.
How to protect yourself from identity theft
1. Secure your Social Security Number
Your social security number is the primary target of identity thieves, as it is the master key to your personal data. To safeguard it, do not carry your Social Security card or any other card with your SSN on it. When asked for it, do not be quick to give it out either. Some businesses and institutions that ask for your SSN do not really need it.
If you have to give it out, do not be afraid to ask questions. Ask why it is needed and how it will be protected. Apart from that, never send it out in any electronic form, or give it out over a phone call. And if it appears on any of your documents, shred them before you throw them out.
2. Practice good password hygiene
Passwords are critical pieces of information when it comes to identity theft, and they are usually targeted through multiple attacks such as brute-force and data breaches. To ensure that your accounts are not compromised, you need to take several measures to protect your passwords.
- Use strong passwords: Include numbers, symbols, uppercase, and lowercase letters. This will help protect against brute-force and dictionary attacks.
- Do not reuse passwords: If your password is compromised, ensure it can’t be used to access multiple accounts.
- Use Multi-Factor Authentication: Using multi-factor authentication or 2FA adds another layer of protection to your password. You can use an authentication app such as Google Authenticator on supported accounts since SMS has its risks.
- Change your passwords regularly: This will help you cut-off any unauthorized access.
Apart from the above, consider using a password manager as it will help create and manage your passwords in a secure manner.
3. Place security freezes and fraud alerts
Freezing your credit is a great identity theft protection measure if you suspect your personal information has been compromised or if you simply want to add extra protection. It is easy, fast, and free to put a security freeze on all three major credit card bureaus.
A security freeze shuts out thieves by preventing anyone from looking up your credit report unless they already have a financial relationship with you. If a lender can’t pull out a credit report, it is unlikely they will grant new credit in your name. If you don’t have one in place and you spot a sign of identity theft, put an initial fraud alert and then request a security freeze later.
4. Order your free credit reports
Your credit card is one of the first places where signs of identity theft will show up, and so it’s crucial to monitor the transactions that have taken place. You are entitled to one full, free credit report from all three credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion – each year.
One option is to order all three credit reports at once and compare them to ensure everything matches. You can also decide to space them out and order one after every four months to keep a close eye on everything. Once you get your report, go through every transaction to ensure it is correct, and look out for any suspicious transactions that may signal fraud or identity theft.
5. Secure your computer & smartphones
Your computers, smartphones, and tablets carry a lot of data that can be used to steal your identity, and therefore you need to protect them. If, for example, you don’t use a password on your phone, someone can take it and access emails, text, photos, and account credentials, among other things.
To block avenues of identity theft through your devices, ensure you use a password on each of them. Apart from that, install an antivirus and update your operating system and software as soon as updates are released. This will protect you from any malicious software that can compromise your device.
6. Properly store or dispose of personal documents
Personal documents often carry information that can be very useful to a hacker. If possible, put all your important documents such as passport, SSN card, birth certificate, copies of insurance cards, etc. in a safe.
Apart from that, dumpster diving is still a thing, so you need to be careful about how you dispose of your documents. Always shred any credit card, bank, or investment statements before you throw them out.
7. Be alert to phishing and spoofing
Phishing and spoofing are very popular methods used by scammers to try and collect personal information from unsuspecting victims. These attackers usually send an email that mimics a bank, credit card company, mortgage lender, or any other reputable business that you might be dealing with. If you get such an email, do not click any links.
You also need to be alert as they may call you posing as your employer or your bank and start asking for crucial information such as your Social Security Number. Instead of responding, contact your bank directly to find out whether the call or email is legitimate.
8. Avoid Public Wi-Fi Networks
Public Wi-Fi hotspots are a haven for hackers as it is easy to intercept any sensitive data send over the network or infect users with malware. In most cases, public networks are often unsecured, even when they have a password. Further, hackers can set up a fake hotspot mimicking a credible business to lure unsuspecting users.
If you have to use a public hotspot, we highly suggest that you use a VPN. A VPN will encrypt all your traffic, securing it from any third-party interceptions. If you don’t use a VPN, avoid using public Wi-Fi for shopping, banking, or other sensitive transactions at all costs.
9. Don’t overshare
In the age of social media, it’s easy to share details such as your home town, email address, children’s names, D.O.Bs, etc. You may not know it, but such information is quite useful to identity thieves, as they usually rely on connecting the dots to create a full personal profile. They can use such information for purposes such as answering security questions, so be careful about what you give out.
Apart from that, tighten your security settings across all social media platforms to limit your audience. You can also go through your posts to see how much personal information you have shared and take action.
10. Use an Identity protection service
Identity theft protection services such as IdentityGuard, LifeLock, and Reliashield provide several services that help protect both individuals and families. These include full id theft protection, extensive monitoring, identity protection alerts, social insight reports, dark web monitoring, and more.
Such services help users prevent identity fraud, but in case anything happens, they also provide identity restoration services. On top of that, any losses and expenses due to identity theft are usually covered with a $1 million identity theft insurance. Identity protection services typically have different individual and family plans starting at around $8 a month.
Identity theft fraud has been increasing over the years, and it is projected to grow further. This means that securing your personal information is now more critical than ever, and so you need to stay vigilant. Use the above tips to stay ahead of the criminals and prevent potential losses. In case you suspect any form of identity theft, always be quick to report it to the relevant institutions and authorities.