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Tips To Help Protect Your Identity

Identity theft gives a stranger access to almost every facet of your life. They could take your money, damage your reputation, and interfere with your personal life.

Block thieves' access before they can steal your identity. When massive data breaches can expose your information, it's impossible to guarantee your total security. Yet, you can incorporate many easy strategies into your daily life to reduce the risk.

Monitor Your Financial Accounts

In many cases, accessing your money is an identity thief's biggest goal. Catching suspicious charges early can help you cut off their access quickly and minimize your losses.

Plan daily, weekly, or monthly check-ins with your financial accounts. Frequent checks let you counteract suspicious activity.

Warning signs of financial identity theft can include changes that aren't familiar to you, such as:

  • Charges on your credit card or debit card statement
  • App notifications or calls from your credit card company
  • ATM withdrawals from your bank account
  • New accounts or lines of credit in your name
  • Claims on your insurance plan
  • Calls from debt collectors
  • New tax documents, tax refunds, or notices from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)
  • Transactions or withdrawals in your investment account

If you notice something odd on your accounts, don't assume it's legitimate. Contact the financial institution to check the details and verify whether it could be fraudulent activity. The institution can help you begin steps to report theft and lock your account.

Get a Copy of Your Credit Report

Monitoring your credit information is a quick way to find potential identity theft. Credit monitoring services may be helpful if you have previously been a target of identity theft.

Check your credit score regularly. You can get one free credit report per year through Each of the three credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax) will send your free report.

Investigate any activity that you don't recognize, including credit inquiries. Even if a suspicious inquiry didn't lead to a new credit line, it could be a sign that someone else is trying to use your information. Set up countermeasures like a credit freeze because they might try again.

Create Strong Passwords

Passwords are a primary target for identity thieves. You'll have to use several tactics to keep your digital accounts safe. Make your passwords difficult for a human or machine to guess. Use numbers, symbols, and a mix of capital and lowercase letters.

Protect and Remember Your Passwords

Remembering passwords for every account can be difficult, so consider using memorable acronyms. For example, for a bank account password, you might say, "This imBank othe Corner o8th Street." The password would then be TimBotCo8S. You can make the password longer or shorter according to your preference.

Do not write passwords or store them in plain text on your computer or mobile device. Digital password managers can encrypt them for your convenience and protection. Only use a well-known, reliable password manager.

Add Multifactor Authentication to Online Accounts

Multifactor authentication gives you another shield against digital ID theft. Even if an identity thief knows the password for one of your accounts, they can only sign into it if you approve it. For example, they would need you to complete a face recognition scan or share a text code.

Use Reliable Antivirus Software

You probably won't notice if your computer picks up spyware or malware — and that's the point. Some identity thieves design stealth programs to monitor as much of your activity as possible until you expose personal or financial information.

Strong security software can catch and block these dangerous programs. Schedule or run scans of your device frequently.

Yet, make sure the antivirus software you install is trustworthy. Some so-called security software available online might be a virus in disguise.

Use Secure Internet Connections

Connecting to public Wi-Fi networks can raise the risk of identity thieves accessing your data. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), public Wi-Fi is safer today than it used to be. However, not all connections are secure.

Switching to stealth or incognito mode in your web browser usually won't provide enough identity theft protection. Check that the websites you visit on public Wi-Fi have "https" (instead of "http") at the beginning of their URLs. Don't sign into accounts or provide personal information on websites that fail this check.

For another layer of protection, you can connect to the internet with a reputable virtual private network (VPN). A VPN can reroute your connection through a server with more secure encryption. This process can impede identity thieves who want to intercept your connection.

Be Skeptical of Calls and Online Conversations

Identity thieves use phishing and spoofing scams to trick you into giving your details directly to them. What might seem like a bank phone call or your cousin's social media messages could be a scammer.

Check whether the person on the other side is who they say they are by asking questions only they can answer. Or, check the phone number with caller ID, hang up the phone, and contact the person or business directly. Verify that any email addresses match who the sender claims they are.

When in doubt, end the conversation and do not click links or attached files. Never let someone pressure you into giving them sensitive information like your Social Security number.

Shred Your Old Documents

Using an at-home shredder can stop thieves from finding old paperwork, such as:

  • Bills and credit card statements
  • Bank statements
  • Envelopes with your name and address
  • Paper copies of medical records, such as after-care summaries
  • Tax records
  • Employment or housing applications and records
  • Credit card offers

Shred any document with your account numbers, birth date, and other sensitive information. If you don't have access to a shredder, you can cut the paper into small pieces instead. Or, you can use a paper shredding service at a local printing or shipping store.

Reset Your Old Devices

Think about how much your phone or computer knows about you. Think about other devices, such as gaming consoles and televisions, which may have stored your credit card number or login credentials.

This data could end up in the wrong hands, even if your device was password-protected. Before you sell, donate, or recycle old hardware, delete all information it stored. Usually, this means conducting a factory reset or disk wipe of the device. Reformatting or manually deleting files typically isn't enough to erase all your details. Or, keep the hard drive.

For employer-owned devices, such as work laptops, follow the employer's data policy if you must return the device. Unless the device is subject to an investigation, you may want to remove any stray personal data mixed in with your daily work.

Watch Your Wallets and Purses

Keep purses and wallets close and within your sight. Don't leave them where it would be easy for someone to walk by and grab them.

Zippered and buttoned pocket styles can prevent your wallet from slipping out unnoticed. If you take it out of your pocket, keep it in your hand or another safe area.

For purses, consider whether the style is secure. Some types of closures, straps, and materials could better protect your belongings. Also, consider downsizing the items that you carry in your purse. For example, your Social Security card isn't necessary for most outings.

Choose ATMs Carefully

Criminals may tamper with ATMs by attaching skimmers, which scan your card and PIN information). Skimming techniques are often undetectable — until the thief exploits your data. Sometimes, a thief replaces the entire standalone ATM with a fake one.

Avoid standalone ATMs that aren't affiliated with a bank or are not attached to a building surface. Try to use ATMs that are visible to nearby security cameras when possible.

Know Your Legal Rights

The law punishes identity thieves for their crimes. Yet, the penalties aren't enough to deter criminals and protect consumers' privacy. Despite your best efforts, you might still become a victim of identity theft.

The thief may be a hacker, scammer, or someone you know. In any scenario, get legal support. A consumer protection lawyer can help you understand your options. In the meantime, act quickly to freeze your credit and set up a fraud alert.

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Contact a qualified consumer attorney to assist with the hazards and stress accompanying identity theft and online scams.

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