You are probably used to hearing anecdotes about how identity theft is a growing problem. While this phrase has become a cliche, the inconvenient truth is that it is also the reality. In 2017, the FTC received 370,916 reports of attempted identity theft. That number ballooned to over 1.68 million by 2021.
If you have not been the target of this fraud, or something similar like bankruptcy fraud, the statistics suggest that you will be eventually.
As with other tasks in life, an ounce of prevention can save you a pound of legal complications. So, it’s best to learn what is identity theft, and how to protect yourself from identity theft. The advice in the guide below and a qualified attorney may be your first step toward comprehensive identity theft protection. Since these incidents often affect your credit, this article will focus on recommendations from the top three credit bureaus.
How to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft: Recommendations from Experian
Use Passwords for Your Devices
You may find it tempting to believe that your cell phone, laptop, or tablet is secure. Because these devices travel with you constantly, your proximity to them feels like an advantage. Regrettably, that is not the reality, and they can easily lead to a data security breach. There may be more opportunities for co-workers or strangers on public transportation to access them than you think.
A pattern or four-digit password does not offer enough protection anymore. Accordingly, there is a growing push to have Americans use a secure password for every device they own. You may not be enthusiastic about this concept, but it is a powerful tool within your control, and a great example of how to protect yourself from identity theft.
Sign-Up for a Password Manager
Nobody enjoys managing secure passwords for every device or online account they have. Since it is easier to use one or two that you know by heart, you may have decided to accept the risk.
You do not have to develop a photogenic memory to improve your online security. Many software companies that specialize in anti-virus software also offer a password manager. In many cases, you can even use it for free.
A password manager can generate secure passwords for your accounts and save them. Considering the hazards that everyone faces from identity theft, taking this step is a simple and no-risk way to protect yourself.
Safeguard Your Sensitive Documents
Despite how many Americans have paperless billing, the U.S. Postal Office handles millions of sensitive documents. Moreover, they deliver those papers to your mailbox regularly.
As a result, one of the most effective ways of safeguarding critical details about your life is to grab your mail daily. The longer it sits in your box, the more time a scammer has to steal it.
Once you have possession of these papers, you must handle them safely. You do not want to throw out anything with financial information or your Social Security number without shredding it first. When possible, it is also advisable to toss them into separate parts of your trash. Otherwise, the most industrious criminals could piece the papers together.
Recommendations from Equifax on How to Protect Yourself From Identity Theft
Use a Security Freeze
A security freeze is one of the most efficient tools you have to stop identity theft in its tracks. If you have suspicions of illicit activity, you should consider requesting it.
A security freeze works because it prevents lenders from obtaining your credit report to open an account. Without your history, they will not approve an application. Meanwhile, you can work with authorities to seek out the fraudsters responsible for all types of identity theft.
Use Fraud Alerts
A fraud alert has less to do with notifying you than warning lenders about potential illegal activity. Once you request this service, institutions take extra steps when they receive applications. This additional level of vigilance should catch scammers before they can take monetary benefits.
The three major credit bureaus become involved in verifying your identity regardless. Nonetheless, they will exercise further caution after you establish a fraud alert. Even slight variations in what they report to the bank or another type of business will face scrutiny.
Audit Your Financial Statements
Many identity theft tactics depend on the ignorance of transactions on a checking account or credit card. After all, anyone can notice a drastic change in value or account balances. But, smaller purchases or withdrawals over time may go unnoticed and benefit the scammer. It’s always a good idea to evaluate your bank statement every month, and see if you notice anything suspicious.
If this is the case, then you will need to call customer service and inform them that you suspect identity theft. They may issue a stop payment and red-flag future attempts to complete the same transaction.
Recommendations on How to Protect Yourself From Identity Theft from TransUnion
Do Not Give Away Personal Information
Have you been to a retail store recently? The process when you check out feels like you are buying someone’s house. The sales associate may ask you for your phone number, email, and other details.
This process is annoying enough as it is without the added risk of identity theft. Anyone standing in line can hear what you say and might decide to try and hack your email. Moreover, the underpaid employee may have enough details to charge your card for anything, even a pricey auto repair.
This unfortunate trend extends far beyond everyday shopping. No matter where you are, you should ask why someone wants your information. Your efforts to limit its availability will go a long way toward reducing your risk. This is another great habit towards how to protect yourself from identity theft.
Look at Changes to Your Credit Report
Another step in how to protect yourself from identity theft: monitor your credit score. Americans have access to one free credit report annually, and you should take advantage of this opportunity for many reasons. For starters, you will have the chance to see what is hurting your score and find evidence of identity theft.
However, one examination of this report each year will not go far toward prevention. There are regular updates to it that you will miss without regular access. Consequently, credit bureaus recommend subscribing to a service that allows you to audit this data.
Look Out for Phishing Attempts
Identity theft is often a numbers game for scammers. As a result, they do not have any scruples about spamming as many people as possible. They use malicious links that, when clicked, can allow them to access your most sensitive details.
Some of the telltale signs that an email is not on the up and up are:
- Erroneous claims that there is an issue with one of your accounts
- Offers for coupons or free items
- Presenting a fake invoice for goods or services
- Claims there were suspicious log-in attempts
- Asking for crucial financial or personal information an organization should have already
The level of deception at work can be surprising. For example, criminals may spoof accounts to trick you into handing over data. Even if these efforts fail thousands of times, they only need a few hits to make their scam profitable.
Do You Need Legal Help With Protection from Identity Theft?
The National Council on Identity Theft Protection reports that identity theft happens every 22 seconds. That statistic is staggering! You may have avoided it for years, but the chances continue to increase, and you may become a victim eventually. If you experienced one of the examples above, or are a victim of other types of identity theft, then you how important it is to protect yourself from identity theft.
An identity theft attorney can assist you in taking legal actions that will do more than stop the illegal activity. They can also advise you on how to safeguard your finances and reputation in the future.