The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received 4.8 million identity theft and fraud reports in 2020, an increase of 45 percent from the previous year. And the number of cases increased for several years before that.
With so much of our lives stored electronically, identity theft protection is more important than ever. Let’s look at 7 strategies for stopping identity theft.
What is Identity Theft?
The U.S. Department of Justice defines identity theft as any type of crime where someone uses another person’s personal data in a way that involves fraud or deception. In most cases, the goal is to get some kind of economic gain for the thief.
Identity theft can impact your life in many ways including damaging your credit score, making you ineligible for mortgages and other loans, and even making you the target of legal action. The following 7 tips can help you stay safe but if you’re already a victim, a consumer protection service can help you get your life back.
1Review Your Credit Card and Bank Statements
Review your credit card and bank statements every month to be sure there aren’t any unexpected charges or activity. If something shows up that you didn’t authorize, contact the bank or credit card issuer immediately to lodge a dispute.
Most statements get delivered electronically these days so you might not think about this step the way you would if you got a paper statement in the mail. Put a reminder in your calendar and make sure you sign up for notification emails when the statement is ready so you don’t forget.
2Use Strong Passwords
Identity thieves use some relatively unsophisticated methods of getting your information. One of the simplest is to guess your passwords to important services and websites.
A lot of people use simple passwords to make them easy to remember and they often re-use the same passwords on many different websites. This is risky since someone who gets hold of one password can access everything.
Instead, use strong passwords that are a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols. A password management app like LastPass or 1Password will manage these for you so you don’t have to memorize them.
3Turn on 2-Factor Authentication Where Possible
Many services support 2-factor authentication for added security. When you log into the service, they’ll send you a text message or use an app like Google Authenticator to generate a one-time code.
This code is like a backup password that adds a second layer of security. If someone does get hold of your password and tries to log in, they won’t get in without that code. And if you receive a code when you haven’t tried logging in, you’ll know something’s wrong so you can change your password.
4Review Your Credit Report Annually
The three major credit reporting bureaus will send you a free credit report once every year. Make sure you get those free reports so you can look for anything that’s out of place.
In particular, you should look for accounts you didn’t open or debts that you never authorized. If you find any errors, follow up with the credit bureaus to ensure they get removed.
5Freeze Your Credit
You can also freeze your credit with the three credit reporting agencies — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.
Freezing your credit stops anyone from looking at or requesting your credit report. That means nobody (including you) will be able to apply for a loan, get a new credit card, or anything else that needs a credit check.
You’ll get a PIN from the credit bureau when you freeze your credit. If you decide you want to unfreeze it at some point, you can provide them with the PIN to verify your identity.
6Pick Up Your Mail Quickly
As we mentioned in the first tip, identity theft doesn’t always happen through high-tech, sophisticated methods. Thieves usually look for the easiest way to steal your data.
One of the simplest is to steal credit cards, bank statements, and other personal information from your mail. If you have a mailbox that’s outside your home and isn’t locked, make sure you pick up your mail quickly after it’s delivered so nobody else can get to it first.
7Be Smart About Cybersecurity
Some identity theft does happen through more sophisticated means, however. The internet can pose several threats, including:
- Email phishing scams
- Viruses and other malware
- Man-in-the-middle attacks
- Fake websites
Email phishing scams are one of the most dangerous online threats for identify theft. Most people know enough to watch for obvious scams like someone on the other side of the world wanting to send you money out of the blue.
But phishing scams are more insidious. The design of a phishing email looks like it’s coming from a real website, such as Amazon, Google, or your bank. The message includes graphics and logos the same as a real message would.
The links in the email go to a fake website, however. The web page also looks like the site you think you’re logging into but when you enter your login details, they’re sent straight to the scammer.
If you get an email that you weren’t expecting from your bank or any other website that you need to log into, don’t click on the links in the email. Instead, go directly to the website in your browser and log in from there.
If the email is legitimate, you should get a message after logging in with more details about the problem.
Identity Theft Protection is an Ongoing Process
These scams are an ongoing cat-and-mouse game between the scammers and the people trying to stop them. Whenever a scam gets identified and stopped, the scammers come up with a new way to get around it.
For this reason, identity theft protection is an ongoing process. Make sure you stay alert for anything that seems wrong.
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