Top 10 Ways to Prevent ID Theft
If you aren’t concerned about ID theft and protecting your personal privacy, maybe you should be. The number of identity theft cases reported to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) increased 100% in 2020, double the number from 2019. Statistically, you now have a 1 in 4 chance of becoming a victim of identity fraud and cybercrime each year.
The good news is, you can take control of your privacy and help prevent identity fraud with these simple protection tips.
1. Protect your social security number.
Don’t carry your Social Security card in your wallet. Whenever you are asked to provide your Social Security number (or for your child), ask why a Social Security number is necessary and how the information will be protected once it’s been provided.
2. Monitor your credit.
To make sure nobody has opened up new accounts under your name, you should check each of your credit reports at least yearly. You can get your free Experian, Transunion and Equifax credit reports at AnnualCreditReport.com. Better yet, subscribe to a 24/7 credit monitoring service like iDefend so you can be notified in real-time of any changes to your credit profile.
If you notice fraudulent credit activity, dispute it with the lender and the credit bureau. Also, consider requesting a fraud alert with the bureaus or freezing your credit reports if you’ve been victimized.
3. Don’t take the phishing bait.
Fraudsters “phish” and catch victims by pretending to be a trustworthy bank, store or government agency. Most commonly, they do this over the phone, in e-mails, but can also use regular mail. Do not respond to any request to verify your account number or password. Legitimate companies do not request this kind of information by email or phone. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and never give out your personal information unless you made the contact.
4. Safeguard your personal information online.
Like most people, you probably share personal information like name, birthday, job, school and hometown on your social media profiles. Unfortunately, if a cybercriminal wanted to collect information about you, social media is going to be their first stop. Try not to share any personal information, especially email addresses, birth dates, children’s full names and other data that can be used for identity theft.
Check your social media account privacy settings and make sure you are not publicly sharing too much information. You can lock down your profiles and safeguard your accounts from things like account takeovers.
Children under the age of 18 are often the target of child identity theft because their credit score is completely unmarked. Posting information about your children on social media, even if it’s just their full names and birthdays, is just as dangerous as posting your own.
5. Secure your computer and smartphone.
Cybercriminals look for easy prey – especially personal computers and mobile devices that are not well-secured. At a minimum, protect your computer and smartphone with good antivirus and spyware protection. Be sure you update this security software regularly. There are excellent free antivirus programs that will do a great job for you. You may want to use an antivirus app for your smartphone also, especially if you have an Android device.
Beware of fake apps and downloads. Download only from sites you know and trust. For your smartphone, stick with the Apple App Store and Google Play.
To protect your privacy while web browsing and shopping, consider doing your web surfing in incognito mode or with other tools to prevent tracking. Also consider using a web browser built for privacy protection such as DuckDuckGo.
Finally, update your phone or computer software when prompted. It’s an annoying fact of life, but hackers exploit security flaws in phone and computer operating systems in order to break in and steal personal and financial information.
6. Use strong passwords.
Scammers have gotten good at guessing passwords using publicly available information and social media profiles such as pets, children, etc. To help minimize the damage, create a unique, strong password for every online account.
The FBI and National Institute of Standards and Technology recommend creating passwords with at least 15 characters because these are more difficult for a computer program or hacker to crack. Mix it up with capital letters, numbers, and symbols. Because it’s almost impossible to remember all your passwords, you could use a password manager such as LastPass to securely store all of them.
If a website or app offers it, set up two-factor authentication. This requires you to provide a second piece of information to verify your identity when logging in such as a code sent to your mobile phone or email. If your password is ever stolen, a criminal can’t get into your account without your smartphone, voiceprint, or fingerprint.
As for account security questions, the FTC advises selecting questions that only you can answer, instead of information that could be available online like your ZIP code, birthplace, or mother’s maiden name. Also, don’t give generic responses, such as “cookies” as your favorite dessert.
7. Click with caution.
When shopping online, check the security of a website before entering your credit card number or other personal information. Do not sign up or order from sites that do not have a secure checkout process (“https” in the address bar and a padlock symbol at the bottom of the browser window.)
8. Review your accounts regularly.
Check your monthly bank and credit card statements for fraudulent activity. A thief with your card or bank account number often makes small charges to see if they can get away with it. These transactions easily slip through the cracks without financial institutions noticing them.
Also be sure to check medical bills or statement of benefits. If someone is using your healthcare information to commit medical identity theft and run up bills in your name, this is the only way you’ll be able to find out and prevent the damage from getting worse.
9. Opt-out of pre-screened credit offers.
Identity thieves can intercept pre-approved credit offers whether mailed or emailed to open new accounts in your name. Shred these offers when you receive them rather than throwing them in the trash.
The safest way to avoid identity theft exposure from pre-screened credit card offers is to opt out of receiving them through optoutprescreen.com, the official consumer credit reporting industry website for opting out.
10. Don't fall for phone scams.
Con artists, posing as a legitimate business, government agency, law enforcement or charity, trick unsuspecting people into giving up personal information and hard-earned money with scam phone calls. Never give personal information over the phone unless absolutely necessary, and don’t ever give it out unless you initiated the phone call.
If someone contacts you and says they are calling from someplace like your bank, credit card company, Microsoft, or the IRS, ask for a number to call them back—and then make sure it’s really an official number.
Then look them up online and call the organization’s customer service number before you give any information. Also, ask how the information will be shared with others and request that the information be kept confidential.
Getting Expert Help
If you are unsure of how to best protect against ID theft or want the help of security experts to stay safe, consider subscribing to our iDefend service. You’ll be protected with the latest in identity protection, cybersecurity and online privacy tools together with the help of our U.S. based cyber support team. We are dedicated not just to protecting you against identity theft but safeguarding you and your family against all of today’s cyber threats.