This is a bit of a scary one! Your personal identity might seem like it’s yours and yours alone. Nope! There are bad guys out there that can steal it and pretend to be you! So let’s figure out the best way you can be prepared and prevent identity theft.
Statistically speaking, in 2019 alone, 1 and 20 people in the United States were affected by identity theft. Close to $16.9 billion dollars was lost from this. That’s a scary big statistic!
Identity theft comes in different forms. It can be someone opening a credit card in your name, opening a new mortgage, or getting access to your social media accounts, to name a few.
That said, here are 10 ways you can prevent identity theft and protect yourself.
- 1. Keep your personal records safe
- 2. Freeze your credit
- 3. Use strong passwords
- 4. Protect your computer
- 5. Check your mail often
- 6. Carry only what you need
- 7. Avoid giving out sensitive information
- 8. Monitor your credit report
- 9. Be careful during tax time
- 10. Get an identity theft protection service
- What if you’re a victim of identity theft?
1. Keep your personal records safe
This might seem obvious but might save you from the first and the easiest form of identity theft. This is especially true if you live with roommates or in an apartment complex.
There are a few things you can do to protect your personal records and prevent identity theft:
- Tear up or shred sensitive documentation when you throw it in the trash. If your name, address, or social is written on it, destroy it as well as you can.
- Use a secure password for all your electronic devices. You don’t want your phone stolen that’s logged in to your bank account without a password set on it
- At home, make sure all your documents like birth certificates, passports, social security cards, etc are locked away somewhere safe and out of sight.
2. Freeze your credit
When you freeze your credit, it restricts access to your credit report. This prevents anyone from opening any new accounts (like credit cards, mortgages, etc) until you unfreeze it.
This is something that I personally do, and that I strongly recommend you start doing as well. I want the three major reporting bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) to have this ability. Check out each of their websites for how you can freeze your credit. Some are as easy as a click of a button.
If you don’t want to freeze your credit, but still want to be protected, then consider Identity Theft Protection Services. Services like Identity Guard offer up to $1 million in insurance and monitoring.
3. Use strong passwords
Do you use the same password for more than 2 online accounts? If so, you’re already putting yourself at risk. Want a hacker or scammer to get access to one of your passwords, it’s easier for them to get the rest.
Instead, use a password manager like LastPass to store all your passwords so you don’t have to remember them. It also helps to generate new passwords that are very secure. It’s free and easy to use, so check it out.
Remember, don’t use easy-to-guess passwords like your birthday or a phone number. Use a password manager or generator to get a secure one.
4. Protect your computer
Your computer is a gold mine for identity thieves. You probably stored passwords, photos of sensitive data, and logged into a bunch of accounts. Your computer better be Fort Knox with everything that it has!
- Use antivirus and anti-malware software to keep your computer safe from hackers
- Don’t download random programs from the internet
- Don’t open email attachments you don’t know about
- Use a super-secure password to log in
If you really want to protect yourself and prevent identity theft, your computer is probably one of the first places to start.
5. Check your mail often
Things like driver’s licenses, social security cards, new credit cards, and passports are usually sent through the mail. This makes your mailbox a good target for identity thieves.
Make sure to always check your mailbox often and not have it pile up. It’s easy for a thief to come and grab your mail and run with it. Don’t give thieves a reason to come grab the mail from your mailbox. Always keep that mailbox empty.
6. Carry only what you need
Take a look at your wallet, what do you have in it? If you’re walking around with 5 different credit cards, three different debit cards, your Social Security card, and maybe even your passport, then you are being very unsafe.
Instead, make sure you only carry what you need. You don’t want to be mugged or lose your wallet with all of the sensitive information go with it. One or two credit cards is probably more than enough. And leave that social security card at home.
7. Avoid giving out sensitive information
Ever been checking out at a store and have the salesperson ask for your personal information? Like your name, email, phone number, and address. Unless you absolutely have to, avoid giving it out.
I’m sure you’ve seen the news where retail stores have been hacked and personal information stolen. Yes, you don’t have any control over when or how this happens, but you can lessen the odds. The less of your personal information floating out there oh, the fewer chances of having your identity stolen.
8. Monitor your credit report
Keep a close eye on your credit report. Most of the time, you don’t realize that your identity has been stolen until you check your credit report. Always make sure that you check your credit report every few months.
Services like Credit Karma offer free credit reports oh, so there’s no reason not to. Super easy-to-use and secure. If you’re not doing this already, then you better get started.
9. Be careful during tax time
Tax time is a feeding frenzy or identity to use. Their usual tactic is to send out fake mail asking for personal information and pretending to be the IRS. There is a simple way to combat this.
If you receive mail from the IRS requesting information from you, then give them a call. Don’t call the number that’s on the letter, and instead get it from their official website. Never trust random mail that comes in, especially email that asks for your personal information.
10. Get an identity theft protection service
Sometimes, even doing all these steps might not be enough. Identity thieves have become more efficient and good at their craft. Knowing that there is a company out there looking out for your credit, monitoring any weird changes, and having insurance for it gives peace of mind. This is where Identity Theft Protection Services come in.
Services like Identity Guard do just that. Here are just some of the perks of working with a service like this:
- Insurance of up to $1 million in losses
- Active monitoring of any changes to your credit
- Searches your personal information on the dark web
- Alert you promptly of any suspicious activities
This kind of protection is invaluable. There is no way you can do all these things while living your life. Having some kind of safeguard and protection for as little as $7 a month is crazy to pass up!
Nobody wants to be a victim of identity theft, but it’s much easier to deal with it if you’re prepared.
What if you’re a victim of identity theft?
Sometimes you can do all you can to prevent identity theft but still fall victim to it. If you suspect that your identity has been stolen, there are things you can do immediately. First off, visit identitytheft.gov and report the incident. Then immediately keep an eye out on your credit report and report any inaccurate information.
If you had an Identity Theft Protection Service, report to them immediately so they can also begin an investigation. If you didn’t have one, then this might be a good time to sign up! Your personal information is clearly floating around out there somewhere, and you want to be prepared if it happens again!
Lastly, make sure you go ahead and freeze your credit so that the Identity Thief cannot open accounts with your information.
You should always consider using an attorney so they can provide accurate and legal advice.
Hope this helps, and stay vigilant!
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